Thursday, January 15, 2015

First to the finish line: Balochistan to have working LG system by month’s end

By Shezad Baloch / Irfan Ghauri

January 15, 2015

ISLAMABAD / QUETTA: Balochistan will be the first province since 2009 to have a functional local government (LG) system as it gears up for the final phase of local body elections, to be held towards the end of this month.

The last phase of the polls – in which elected councillors will vote for the mayor and deputy mayor of Quetta, and chairpersons and deputy chairpersons for Balochistan’s other local bodies – will take place amid high security on January 28, the province’s Election Commissioner Sultan Bayazid announced on Wednesday.

“Over 10,000 elected councillors will vote via secret ballots to elect 725 mayors or chairmen and 725 deputy mayors or vice chairmen across Balochistan,” he told reporters at a news conference held at his office in Quetta. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also issued the schedule for the last phase of local body elections in Balochistan on Wednesday.

As many as 139 presiding officers will be deputed for the polls, Bayazid said. Councillors will vote using ballot papers available in two colours – sky blue for mayors/chairpersons and white for deputy mayors/vice chairpersons.

Only those elected in the previous two phases of the polls will be eligible to contest in the last phase. 

Winning candidates will serve as mayors/chairpersons and deputy mayors/vice chairpersons for four years.

Talking to reporters, Bayazid said the Balochistan government has decided to take stringent security to thwart any untoward incident during the final phase of elections. “The country is passing through critical circumstances. That is why there will be foolproof security for the polls,” he said.

The provincial election commissioner added that “despite all challenges, Balochistan will be the first province in the country to have a functioning local government system once the final phase is completed.”

Local bodies in Pakistan have been inactive ever since the last one expired in 2009. Since then, the Supreme Court and ECP have been pressing the provinces to hold local government elections. But apart from Balochistan, none of them have so far taken any serious steps to fulfill the constitutional obligation.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – ruled by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which had promised it would hold the local body polls within 90 days of coming to power – is likely to hold the polls this year, over 17 months after the May 2013 general elections.

Punjab and Sindh, however, are still far from holding local body elections as they still have to meet some pre-requisites for the exercise. These include the delimitation of constituencies, a frequent stumbling block on the march towards local government polls.

The Balochistan Assembly amended the province’s local government laws to set aside seats for ‘professionals and social workers’ who would share the five per cent quota of seats allocated to peasants and workers. This amendment was challenged in the Balochistan High Court (BHC) and resulted in a stay order against polls for the two categories which were to be held alongside elections for seats of women and minorities on May 29, 2014.

After much delay, the BHC nullified the amendment last year and elections for the seats reserved for workers and peasants were held on December 31, 2014. This successfully concluded the second phase of the local body polls and paved the way for the final phase of the exercise.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2015.

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