February 8, 2015
The administrations of Punjab and Sindh are seeking further delays in local elections, in the case of Sindh for another year, and until November in Punjab.
Considering that Balochistan has been in a more-or-less permanent state of instability for most of the last 20 years, it may be considered a minor miracle that it has been able to complete all three phases of local government (LG) elections. There are new mayors duly elected across the province and whatever else ails Balochistan, it has at least not stopped the devolution of power to local representatives. The Balochistan polls passed off peacefully and new local administrations will bed-in over coming months.
Nothing of a similar sort is happening in Sindh or Punjab and there is a definite sense of foot-dragging by the administrations of both provinces much to the irritation of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Both provinces are seeking further delays in local elections, in the case of Sindh for another year, and until November in Punjab.
A meeting held at the ECP on February 6 found that both provinces were noncommittal in terms of a definite time frame for LG elections. The usual excuses were trotted out — problems with delimitations, population densities in high-rise buildings and the lack of a census since 1998 — all of which have been heard before and all of which were ‘accommodated’ in Balochistan. Sindh and Punjab have had quite long enough to resolve the problems they say they face — and there is no doubt that those problems are real enough — and if the least stable of all the provinces can get itself to the point at which it can hold LG elections, then it is difficult to see why it is so difficult for Sindh and Punjab to do the same.
Except that it is not so difficult. The devolution of power to elected officials like mayors (and the mayor of Quetta has already hit the ground running) is the very last thing that feather-bedded bureaucrats and sanguine politicians want, as a whole bazaar-full of apple carts, to say nothing of personal favour-banks, will be upset. Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (K-P) is ready for elections in May. And if K-P can do it, so can Sindh and Punjab, so quit the foot-dragging.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2015.