Sunday, May 31, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 1, 2015

KP LG elections Local Government (LG) polls were held after a gap of a decade in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Saturday. The scale of the exercise can be imagined from the fact that 13.1 million people voted to elect 41,762 village, neighbourhood, tehsil (sub-district) and district council representatives. An unprecedented 84,420 candidates were in the running for the general seats and 7,681 women candidates for 6,678 women’s seats. Many of these women candidates were returned unopposed. Women’s participation was higher than in the last general elections, reflecting their interest in electing their representatives at the grassroots level. There were reports of women not being allowed to vote yet again in parts of Lower and Upper Dir and in some other areas of the province. No polls could be held in Kohistan as the bifurcation of the district is under challenge in the Peshawar High Court. Each voter had to cast at least six, if not seven votes in areas having reserved seats for religious minorities. That proved too confusing for some of the electorate, particularly women, many of whom returned without casting their vote as the arrangements at many polling stations were found less than satisfactory. Complaints were heard aplenty on the day and after regarding mismanagement, poor security, and clashes between rivals. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak was quick off the mark in shifting the entire blame for the mismanagement and violence on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), claiming that the provincial government had handed over security arrangements and the police force to the ECP. Reports said 11 people were killed and over 48 injured during polling, 30 of the injured being contributed by Peshawar alone. A majority of the polling stations saw voting marred by electricity blackouts (in the stifling heat), lack of trained polling staff in sufficient numbers, voters’ lack of awareness of the polling procedure (complicated by the number of votes to be cast by each voter), lax security and the time-consuming process of casting votes. None of this, according to KP Minister for LG Inayatullah Khan meant the legitimacy of the elections could be questioned. This statement makes an interesting contrast with the way the PTI castigated similar anomalies and mismanagement in the 2013 general elections, which the PTI declared ‘rigged’ and launched a ‘container revolution’ against that held the whole country and democratic system hostage for months before petering out. In fact the anomalies, weaknesses and mismanagement in the KP LG elections gave ammunition to the PTI’s political rivals, including former president and co-Chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari to poke fun at how the LG polls in KP under Imran Khan’s PTI government had ‘demonstrated rigging’. Sarcasm at PTI’s expense and the complaints here and there of ‘rigging’ aside, the ECP seems satisfied by the conduct of the whole exercise. However, before the ECP gets carried away patting itself on the back, it would be better served if it summed up and learnt some lessons from the KP LG elections, particularly since two remaining LG elections in Punjab and Sindh are looming. Clearly, based on the KP experience, the ECP needs to focus on better coordination with the incumbent provincial governments on security and preventing violence amongst rivals and their supporters; train its polling staff better to help and facilitate voters in what is a more complicated exercise even than voting in general elections; ensure a reasonable degree of management and facilitation of voters against the elements and unnecessary delays that tax their patience, and prove that it is serious in helming an improved system of elections at all levels to rid the country of the unending game of rigging accusations that bring the whole democratic edifice’s legitimacy into question after virtually every election. As to the results of the KP LG elections, at the time of writing these lines, counting of votes was in progress. Preliminary unofficial results however from 183 district councils out of a total 978 showed the PTI leading with 53 seats, ANP 31, JUI-F 21, PPP seven, PML-N 17, JI 22. Only when the official results are fully in will it be possible to judge whether these trends reflect the overall results or not. Having said that, KP and the country deserve congratulations for adding one more brick to the grassroots foundations of the democratic edifice.

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