PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, while unveiling his party’s manifesto 2013 in a press conference at Lahore Press Club, promised that his party would conduct local government (LG) elections across the country within the first six months of the PML-N government.
In an interview with Truth Tracker, PML-N Spokesman Siddique Al Farooq said, “We are committed to holding LG elections within six months in Punjab and the local government bill has been passed.” But he was quick to add, “The severity of floods in Punjab is greater than in previous years. There exist threats of terrorism in the country and the energy crisis has still not been tackled. Dengue is also spreading tentacles in the province. These issues do not warrant us to hold local government elections right after general and by-elections.” He further said, “We have to tack all these serious issues first. But I assure you there would be no unnecessary delay in holding LG polls.”
When asked about LG polls in Islamabad Capital Territory, which also falls under the domain of PML-N’s federal government, he said, “LG polls will be held in rural areas of the territory.” Again he was quick to add, “It is better for you to ask Election Commission of Pakistan for holding polls in the Islamabad Capital Territory.”
Under articles 32 and 140-A of the Constitution, the local government system is a constitutional requirement for the political, administrative, and financial empowerment of individuals at rural and urban divide to ameliorate the sufferings and grievances of the general public. Section 10, 29 and 30 of Charter of Democracy, signed between Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim-Nawaz in 2006, also bind both the parties to hold LG elections.
However, in Pakistan, army leaders tried to implement a local government system across the country but the elected government failed to do so. Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf passed a Local Government Ordinance and elections were held in 2001 and 2005.
Following the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, local bodies became the responsibility of the provinces. Despite the amendment, LG elections were not held in any of province. The previously elected PML-N government (2008 to 2013) in Punjab did not administer LG elections. Currently, the PML-N leads the government in Punjab and nationally, and it is their responsibility to conduct elections in Punjab and the Islamabad Capital Territory.
On July 23, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered all provincial governments to finalize the legislation by August 15 for holding LG elections in September, Election Commission of Pakistan’s Spokesperson Khurshid Alam Khan told Truth Tracker in a telephone interview. He further added, “The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had informed the Supreme Court of Pakistan that 90 days are required to hold LG elections after the issuance of the notification in this regard.”
The commission was ready to hold elections and had also issued a notification for the formation of a special wing to conduct LG polls in Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Opposition leader Punjab Assembly and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s leader Mahmood ur Rashid said that PML-N government had deliberately sabotaged the LG elections in Punjab during its previous tenure and was hell bent on doing the same again using different tactics. He said that holding the LG elections on a non-party basis was against the basic spirit of the devolution of power, and said that the opposition would file a petition in the court against conducting local body polls on a non-party basis.
According to the promise, the PML-N is to hold local government elections in Islamabad Capital Territory before November 5, as PML-N’s President Nawaz Sharif took his oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan on June 5, and in Punjab before November 6 and as Shahbaz Sharif took oath as Punjab Chief Minister on June 6. The Punjab Local Government Bill 2013 for holding LG elections was passed on August 21 in the provincial assembly.
“Local Government is the root of democracy all over the world and real empowerment of the masses comes through local bodies, but unfortunately, elected governments have always ignored them except in the 1960s,” said Dr. Mehdi Hassan Chairman of the Mass Communication Department of Beaconhouse National University.
In a telephone interview with Truth Tracker, Hassan lamented this, saying, “They do not want to share their power at a grassroots level. On the contrary, dictators, be it Ayub Khan, Zia ul Haq or Pervez Musharraf, administered LG elections to nurture the support of public representatives and legitimise their illegitimate rule.”
According to Hassan, “If the current government has any respect for the Supreme Court, it will conduct LG elections within the given time frame.”
The PML-N Government is set to complete its six months on November 5. The party has submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan that it would hold elections in Punjab and Balochistan provinces, being run by the PML-Government or coalition, on December 7. Truth Tracker rules that the promise has been compromised.