04 February 2015

Local Government Elections: A fiasco in Balochistan

Courtesy: Pakistan Today

The always active former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered all provinces to conduct Local Government Elections in 2013. The governments of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) concocted one excuse after another to delay the elections. In order to prove their democratic credentials, Balochistan government agreed to conduct the same by the end of 2013.

This cheerful news brought a wave of hope in the province. Politicians at Union Council level started preparations for the elections in every nook and corner of the vast province. Finally, the day of elections came and on 7th December, 2013, the first phase of LG elections was successfully completed. This started a long and disappointing wait for the transfer of power to the elected councilors that continues to date.

Contrary to the expectations of the ruling coalition in Balochistan, opposition parties won sizable majority in those elections. The government decided to delay the rest of the phases of elections by any means necessary. They pulled one trick after another to delay the elections and transfer of power to local governments.

When the second phase of elections finally took place on 29th May, 2014, the government of Balochistan devised another strategy to further delay the transfer of power. It made a last minute change to the Local Government Ordinance which was challenged by another political party in the court. Ultimately the amendment was struck down by Balochistan High Court. Seizing the opportunity, Pakhtunkhaw Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), one of the coalition partners in Balochistan government, challenged the decision of Balochistan High court in the Supreme Court of Pakistan through a petition.

Surprisingly, PkMAP withdrew its petition in September without achieving any results. This proves that it was just a delaying tactic employed by the ruling coalition. After a wait of almost over a year, the final phase of elections were held last Wednesday. Conveniently, the ruling coalition swept the elections and won even from those districts where it wouldn’t have won if election process was not stretched to 14 months.

Ironically, the government of Balochistan is using the Local Government Elections for its projection. Ads were published in all newspapers of Balochistan boasting the achievement of Balochistan as the first province to successfully conduct LG polls. However, what the government is trying to ignore are the allegations by opposition politicians about irregularities in these elections, which should not be taken lightly.

Rashid Khan Nasir of Awami National Party (ANP) and a major opposition figure told this scribe that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used his influence and power to ensure victory for the government parties in Quetta Metropolitan Corporation.

Quorum card was deceitfully played by the ruling coalition to evade imminent defeat in at least six districts of Balochistan. According to the local government law of Balochistan, final phase of elections can only take place if two-thirds of the councilors are present in elections. In all those districts where opposition was expected to win, the government backed councilors didn’t show up and thus delayed the elections for technical reasons. Based on past experience, one can easily deduce that elections will only be held in these six districts when government achieves majority by hook or crook.

The root cause of Local Government Election’s fiasco in Balochistan can be traced back to the historical landmark, the 18th amendment which handed over the power to conduct these elections to the provincial government instead of Election Commission of Pakistan. This was a decision made in the spirit of provincial autonomy but it proved to be a mistake due to the dictatorial attitude of the politicians. These politicians want provincial autonomy but they are not willing to do the same to the districts. And that is why the local government elections were procrastinated by Balochistan government until it managed to secure victory for its own men.

Development funds are the biggest source of income for the Members of Provincial Assembly (MPAs) in all provinces. When Local Government becomes functional these funds are transferred from MPAs to councilors, which they don’t want to happen in the first place. That’s also the reason why LG polls are delayed in all four provinces.

Even if Local Government becomes functional at some point in the future, it’s less likely that the government of Balochistan will provide them with sufficient funds or let them work smoothly. Until or unless the Balochistan government changes its attitude, the Local Government is doomed to fail from the outset.

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