Who would have thought that one day someone in a responsible post would ask the members of an elected National Assembly to learn ‘democratic’ ways, as far as the local body elections were concerned, from General Ziaul Haq .  Uproar followed the sudden and out of place reference to the most ‘beneficent’ of all the dictators Pakistan has had to deal with in the last six decades.  How could someone in all seriousness find Ziaul Haq befitting an example while discussing the local body election bill in the National Assembly? 

The state minister for parliamentary affairs Shaikh Aftab cited General Zia’s example at a time when Pakistan was about to pass a full-fledged bill to define and refine the functioning of the local body system. It seems almost impossible to decipher the terrain of thought that was wobbling up and down in his brain when he said this. Insightful reading of the bill could divulge the secret. 

The government has passed a bill to hold these local body polls on a non-party basis.  Herein lies the catch, the missing link that adjoins the thread of dictatorial values handed down to N-league in a very subtle way. Unfortunately N-league is trying to cling to the lethal shadow of a dictator whose policies have brought no good to the country.

As per the proposed schedule from EC, the LB polls will be held on September 20 in Punjab and Sindh. Balochistan was the first province to be done with this basic and important component of a thriving democracy. 

The local body elections for Islamabad were held back in 1983 the last time. The capital territory was declared as a separate district then.  Now after 32 years the residents of the capital would be voting for their own mayor and deputy mayor.

An elaborated bill supposedly to be passed on Wednesday could not get through due to the opposition parties trying to propose their amendments. The suggestion was taken up and on Thursday it was placed before the house with most of the suggestions proposed by the opposition parties incorporated into the final draft. It included the allocation of 33 percent reserved seats for women and the five percent quota for the minorities.  But one major amendment opposed and lately rejected by the treasury benches after a heated debate was about holding the elections on party basis.

The formula is simple. It is no rocket science and it does not take too much of intellect to understand why these elections are important to be held on party basis. All the dictators in Pakistan always opted for local body polls while spewing venom against the national leadership.  By holding LB polls these dictators tried to prove their love for democratic ways while on the flipside they prepared a new leadership that could close doors for the rivals that any dictator was not particularly fond of.  They were looking for something superficial and cosmetic to exhibit through holding these elections. At a time when there was no parliament intact relying on local bodies to act democratically was as futile a drill as this non-party basis polls are going to be.

The dictators usually feared international pressure and in General Musharraf’s time it was the internal pressure too that resulted in LB polls. Gen Musharraf held local body elections in Pakistan while the top leadership of Pakistan Peoples’ Party and PML-N was in exile. There was no parliament but there were local representatives.  What matters today is holding these elections in all the three provinces along with Cantt areas and the capital territory with the contestants showing their political affiliations openly. 

This might be the nursery to nourish the leadership qualities in a new political worker but since there is no such thing as an independent candidate in our political scenario, parties would do nothing but stay on a watch to recruit the ‘winner’ for their party once the polls are over . Punjab government has not been too open to the idea of holding LB polls from the very start, nor was Sindh.

The LHC back in November 2013 gave orders to the provincial government to revisit the Punjab Local Government Act 2013. The court declared Section 18 of the said act ‘void and ultra vires’ to the Constitution. Pakistan Peoples’ Party has also challenged the decision to hold non-party based LB polls in Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday. 

The political parties in the opposition have been raising this issue of non-party based election on the floor but the government seems to be fear-stricken and haunted by a constant threat of losing their power at the grass root level. What if the mighty Punjab government fails to win the hearts of their voters at the local level?  This might be one of the questions tricking the government into believing that the power generating at the local level could be tampered with through a disguise.  Instead of polluting the system by waiting for the winner and granting the one all what pleased the provincial government, the local bodies as an institution should have been nurtured without malice.

Pettiness has no place in the new democratic ways of this country. The devolution of power is not a term or an icing on neither the cake that looks cool while used in an informal discussion nor a cake to be exhibited as some mouth watering milestone for bringing democracy to Pakistan. It is a mindset and a practice.  This is the functioning of the state at a very small scale where locals have the power and right to work for themselves with the help of locally elected members. But the member must be able to declare his political affiliations without fear. There is no harm in building ways to train leadership that can relate to the local issues without losing the national level perspective once they reach the federal level.  If the government itself thinks that being political is ‘demonic’ and ‘corrupt’ in nature then they better dissolve the Parliament instead of ever holding the local body elections.