Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar signed the Punjab Local Government Bill 2019 into law on Saturday; bringing to a close the chaotic and confusing few months for the Punjab government. It was fitting that a drafting process that had been reset and fought over so many times was completed in similar fashion. The Opposition was not allowed to bring amendments for technical reasons, which prompted an expected walkout, leaving only the government benches to pass the law in just 10 minutes, unopposed.

It is a shame that such a crucial piece of legislation – one which governs the fate of the third tier of government for the most populous province in the country – could not be completed through compromise. Yet as things stand we have a new form of local government to contend with.

The problem is, mirroring the legislation process; the actual provisions of the bill and their effect also remain clouded in confusion – especially for the people who were elected local councillors before. What we know is that the previously elected councils will be wrapped up as soon as possible and the new system would be run by administrators to be appointed from among the civil servants till a new election could be held. What is the timetable for the new elections? Will it be delayed the same way the previous government had delayed them? These are the questions which need prompt answering.

With the governor signing the bill, the nascent local government setup has been thrown into limbo with no forewarning or preparation. Simply uprooting the existing system and legislating a new one is not cause for celebration. The government will need to run extensive campaigns to educate the masses on the intricacies of the new setup before beginning the process of fresh elections with the same vigour. Till then the job is half-complete.