The government’s main focus should now be on preparing for and conducting the Local Government (LG) election – the third tier of democracy. The landmark 18th Amendment was passed in 2010, devolving substantial administrative powers to the provinces, but successive governments have dragged their feet on strengthening the system.
The Supreme Court has remained vigilant in ensuring that the local bodies’ elections are held on time. In March, it passed a landmark judgment to restore the LG system in Punjab. The provincial government has was unable to complete the electoral process. Now with the ECP and the apex court standing firm on the issue, the government has no option but to hold elections by March 2022.
The first phase of local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has already commenced. Sindh has also expressed willingness to hold elections in the next four to five months. It needs to be seen if Sindh government will hold timely elections, given the issues with new delimitations of constituencies and the controversial census result.
The federal government maintains that preparations are in the final stages and elections will be held on schedule. The prime minister has said the local government system is the basic structure of democracy without which democracy was incomplete. It should be the foremost responsibility of the government to complete the electoral process and hold elections on time.
The government has the responsibility for the devolution of administrative and fiscal powers. However, the bureaucracy is often reluctant to surrender or share their powers, which leads to inordinate delays in local bodies’ elections. Politicians have also manipulated the system for their vested interests but it had reappeared in modified terms. It is imperative to decide the devolution of powers between the all-purpose bureaucracy and local government structures.
The court has followed its mandate but the prerogative on holdings elections, devolution of powers and releasing funds is the prerogative of the government. Political parties need to ensure that local bodies’ elections are held on time. This is essential to strengthen democracy and institutions in the country and should be our foremost priority.