“They serve God well, who serve

his creatures.”

–Caroline Norton

The concept of local government election is to provide a sense of participation to the people of the country by delegating powers at the grass roots level. This decentralization then ensures that most of the issues affecting the people are resolved at their doorstep facilitating the citizens of the country by creating opportunities to tackle local problems at the local level. In Pakistan successive governments have been experimenting with the concept of local government institution mostly to provide a political platform for themselves to perpetuate their rule.

Dictators like Zia ul Haq and General Musharraf tinkered with the system to suit their political interests defeating the very spirit of local bodies in this country. On the other hand the democratically elected governments either shied away from conducting these elections or created conditions in which the ruling party was able to maintain a stranglehold over the entire system.

During General Musharraf’s tenure, the local bodies were able to play some role in the affairs of the country although it was established that massive corruption, nepotism and other malpractices defeated the very purpose of the institution of local government in Pakistan. It was expected that the democratically elected government would streamline and try to improve the system but unfortunately no visible effort was made and those who were responsible for corruption were never not punished or held accountable for being involved in mega corruption scandals throughout the country.

Even today when the elections for the local bodies have been announced due to the intervention of the courts they remain under the shadow of the previous local bodies which failed to provide any hope for the common man who again have no prospect of improving their everyday lives due to these elections.

Three provinces have expressed their willingness to hold elections on November 27 and December 7 this year. Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa has failed to enact appropriate laws on this issue and then propose a date for local bodies elections to the election commission of Pakistan. While the people may indeed succeed in creating conditions where they have a sense of participation in their own affairs yet a question mark hangs on whether these elections will be beneficial for the common man of this country. Another issue that was being agitated was Punjab’s decision to conduct partyless elections. This experiment was first undertaken by dictator Zia ul Haq whose primary aim was to defeat the concept of political parties which is a critical component for the institution of democracy. Party-less elections would mean that once again people who are elected at the grass-roots level will have to work as subordinates to the civil bureaucracy and the provincial government meaning thereby they will lose the basic essence of self rule and will only function as a tool for the incumbent government.

Local bodies can only flourish if they have complete autonomy including financial independence only then they can function in a manner where they can serve the interest of the common citizens in any country. It would have been better if all the stakeholders of Pakistan had agreed to evolve a consensus on the role of the local governments in this country before the elections. At the present juncture when several divisive forces are working overtime to usurp not only the legitimate rights of the majority of the people in this country but also to defeat the basic purpose of democratic dispensation in Pakistan, it became absolutely essential that no decisions that could breed further polarization in this country is encouraged. The decision to hold party-less elections would bring in a wave of sharp polarization amongst the people which in the long run could hurt the prospects of democracy in this country.

One hopes that the federal government in consultation with all the four provinces would be able to develop a method under which a system could be put in place where the local governments not only function effectively but where avenues for corruption were minimized and a concerted effort was made to transfer the benefits of local government in real term to the people of Pakistan. This was not an unachievable target and only required honesty of purpose and political will which unfortunately is seen to be lacking in several critical areas of this country. In case the political parties fail to evolve a consensus and continue with their endeavor to use these elections as a platform to further their own political ambitions the concept of local government institution providing relief to the people of this country will collapse rendering the entire exercise futile without any meaningful betterment for the people of this country.

 The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist.