03 January 2014

Balochistan Local Bodies Conundrum

Courtesy: The Lahore Times

Balochistan became the first province to conduct local bodies election in Pakistan after change of government in last general elections. Elections were held in Balochistan on 7th December for most constituencies and for remaining ones and the elections of Mayors and District council chairmen will take place in mid-January. These elections passed without any major act of violence by the insurgents. Some analysts and politicians are presenting the holding of these successful elections as sign of betterment in situation of Balochistan. This is absolutely incorrect and anyone aware of the ground realities of Balochistan will never make such a baseless claim. 

18th Amendment was a landmark for provincial autonomy in history of Pakistan which is marred by over-centralization and deprivation of rights of smaller provinces. This amendment empowered provinces in many ways however there is a major flaw in it. Local bodies elections will be conducted by provincial governments rather than election commission, according to eighteenth amendment. This means that now provincial governments can delay these elections and can conduct them in any way they want. It was Supreme Court which put pressure on provinces otherwise local bodies election will never have been conducted. The local government laws, constituency delimitations and selection of returning officers will be the prerogative of the provincial government. Ruling parties in Governments can manipulate these to benefit their parties in elections just like what current Balochistan government did in these local body elections.

The elections were no doubt peaceful but the reports of huge turnouts are exaggerations of mythical proportions. The turnout in Baloch areas was negligible and there was no polling in Mekran division apart from few constituencies. Ruling coalition parties; National Party, PML-N and Pashtunkhaw MAP, used the government machinery in their favor to secure victories for their candidates. Constituencies were delimited to benefit these parties. The polling Staff who was loyal to them was appointed and thus it was ensured that ruling parties win by any means necessary. Thus, these elections, just like the May 11 General elections, were marred by systematic rigging and can’t be called fair and free. Once again the opportunists used the government machinery to clinch victory in elections and made mockery of justice.

Now, when the District council chairmen and Mayors will be elected then the real test of provincial government will begin. Will the opposition’s Chairmen and Mayors get the funds? Moreover, the local government act of Balochistan empowers the chief minister to sack any Chairmen and mayor of local governments. This means that Dr. Malik can conveniently sack opposition mayors and chairmen on concocted charges of corruption and mismanagement. We have to wait and see whether that happens but the very own existence of this clause shows the mischievous intent of ruling coalition that it’s not ready to give up power to local bodies. The structure of local governments is also too complex and the previous system of 2001 was much better because it empowered the District Nazim. In current system, the mayors will have nominal powers and they will be dependent on provincial governments. This also exposes the hypocrisy of the ruling coalition, they went autonomy from the Federal government but not ready to channel it downwards to third tier of governments i.e. Local governments.

Moreover, these elections were conducted in haste and government had not done its homework about transfer of power and structure of the local governments. This is apparent from the statement of Jan Buledi, the spokesman of CM Balochistan. He said “We will transfer meaningful powers to the Local Bodies institutions and new laws will be enacted by the provincial assembly after receiving reports by a special committee entrusted with the task.” Other political parties believe that provincial government will jot transfer administrative and financial powers to local governments. Provincial government is fully capable of making the local governments fail because it’s the authority that can make laws for this system thanks to eighteenth amendment.

Local governments are founding stone of any democratic structure. Unfortunately in Pakistan these have never been fully empowered by the politicians who don’t want to share power with anyone. The case of Balochistan is unique, it’s facing an insurgency and there is genuine sense of deprivation prevailing across the province. An effective local body network can help in soothing down the grievances of people to some extents. However, the antics of Dr. Malik led government so far have made it difficult for local bodies to attain these goals. The government needs to stay of the local governments and give them breathing space. If these local governments fail then eventually it will be the provincial government that will feel the burnt.

P.S: Totally free and fair elections can only be held if Electronic voting machines are used in elections.


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