Friday, December 11, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 7, 2015

LG conclusion With the third phase of the local government (LG) elections in Punjab and Sindh completed, these elections for the lowest tier of the democratic edifice have concluded, with the exception of nine districts housing 81 constituencies in Sindh, whose delimitation was ordered afresh by the courts. This too has now been done and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced that the schedule for these remaining local bodies will be announced in three days. In the third phase of the LG elections, 12 districts in Punjab and six in Sindh were in contestation, the latter all in Karachi. The completion of the overwhelming bulk of the LG elections in all the provinces seems the appropriate moment to sum up the whole exercise. This can be done by looking at the process, i.e. the actual practice of these elections, their results and the implications of the final outcome, and last but not least, drawing conclusions for the future suggested by the results. It can be stated without fear of contradiction at the very outset that the pattern in this as in previous phases as well as the earlier LG elections in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seems similar. Thus, for example, in each province and each phase, the LG elections have passed muster as by and large reflecting the genuine mandate of the electorate. However, this clean bill of health cannot obscure complaints of mismanagement, electoral fraud, violence and clashes between rivals in some constituencies that yielded some deaths, injuries and arrest and punishment for some individuals committing electoral fraud of one kind or another. These failings and misdemeanours do not lend themselves to the tired rhetoric of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) alleging rigging in every electoral exercise since 2013. These LG elections, as much as the general elections of 2013 and subsequent by-elections on some seats have emerged as credible, albeit not without blemishes that the ECP, political parties and the government should take steps to overcome. As to the outcome, none of the LG elections in all the provinces, including the current third phase, sprang any surprises. In this round, as expected, the PML-N won in Punjab, the MQM in Karachi. The interesting evolution of the Pakistani polity now betrays an unprecedented diversity. Each province has a different party in power or leading a coalition. Given the 18th Amendment and now the near completion of the local bodies rung, this implies the near and far future may see the polity traversing the terra incognita of different parties leading the provincial governments and commanding significant support at the local bodies level adjusting to coexistence with each other and with the Centre. In the case of Punjab, the same PML-N rules at the Centre, with the two Sharif brothers in tandem in Islamabad and Lahore. Therefore Punjab and the Centre are likely to have the smoothest relationship of all, as the recent past has already indicated in practice. The interesting and somewhat more complicated relationships are likely to be amongst the other three provinces and Punjab and the Centre, given that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has a PTI-led coalition government in which the Jamaat-i-Islami is a junior partner, Balochistan has a National Party-led multi-party coalition government, and Sindh is ruled by the PPP. Our neighbour India went through a similar transition after the dominant Congress Party's hold weakened, giving rise to a much more diverse political landscape with the rise of state (provincial) based parties. Pakistan now seems poised to undertake a similar journey. What allowed India to adjust to the new political realities was the continuity of its democratic system. Pakistan should learn from that experience and understand that without democratic continuity, the new and complex problems that could arise from diversity may not be manageable. As to the by now almost fully installed local bodies and the LGs that will be constructed on this basis, the real test will be whether the newly elected local representatives will be able to wrest power from the entrenched bureaucracy that has been running affairs at the local level for a long time, for the benefit of their constituents. Democracy by itself cannot do this, it only allows the possibility of struggling for real devolution of power. More power therefore to the elbows of our new local representatives.

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