Whatever the outcome of the last round of Sindh’s local council elections, one thing is certain: it was a peaceful process. Bravo to the Sindh administration for ensuring that voting took place peacefully on the day of the local government elections in Karachi, Hyderabad, and other cities. Police officers and other members of the legal system deserve appreciation for their tireless work. More than 26,000 election officials participated in the voting process at 4,997 polling places. Other than minor disputes and sour words being spoken at specific locations, there was no big conflict.
Let’s talk about the results now: at the time we went to print, Hyderabad and Sindh districts were unquestionably under the control of the Pakistan People Party, whereas Karachi was a race against time between Jamaat-i-Islami and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. In a late-night development, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement withdrew from the polls despite having a united front following the merging of the three groups. The claim made by MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui that the Karachi local elections were rigged has no substance. The acceptable voter participation in the municipal elections demonstrates that the public did not heed their call for a boycott.
The Sindh administration put pressure on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to delay the local elections, but the ECP chose to go forward with the scheduled date of January 15 instead. After the Punjab Assembly was dissolved, the ECP reviewed the issue, but it rejected the Sindh government’s request to postpone elections. Following the ECP’s severe warning, the Sindh administration finished making preparations for the local body elections overnight. The local body polls were postponed by the Sindh government three days ago, but the ECP responded that the elections in Hyderabad, Karachi Division, and other districts would still take place on January 15 as scheduled. The Interior Ministry was instructed by the Election Commission to make sure that the army and rangers were stationed at the most crucial polling places.
It is a reality that the federal parliamentary democratic system does not lend itself to the establishment of local governments through local elections since the appropriate members of the national and provincial assemblies do not continue to have access to local-level development projects. Therefore, the elected national and provincial administrations aim to keep the local bodies inactive to preserve the development funding in their possession. This is the cause of the local bodies’ relative inactivity throughout the past forty years, compared to the military era when they were reinforced due to their extra-constitutional authority. Local governments are without a doubt the true pillars of democracy, serving as a conduit for the distribution of democracy’s benefits to citizens’ doorsteps. But PTI likewise followed the practice of forgoing local body elections throughout its various terms in office, making it clear that PPP and Muslim League are not the only ones engaging in interest politics.
Even before this, the Sindh government maintained its practice of forgoing local body elections, and by choosing PPP officials to lead Karachi and Hyderabad, the development money designated for local bodies was still being utilised. The same strategy was used in Punjab under the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and PTI governments, and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, local body elections were prevented from taking place at the scheduled time. The Lahore High Court, Islamabad High Court, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld their decisions regarding the LG polls. During the hearing of various cases, the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission to make the calendar of local body elections public. The schedule for the municipal elections in Sindh and Punjab was made public under the same decisions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and the local council elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were made practicable in phases. The Sindh government filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the Election Commission’s final decision to hold local elections in Sindh on January 15, but the Supreme Court rejected this petition and maintained the Election Commission’s decision. When the PPP-led government in Sindh agreed to this, the PPP’s ally MQM demanded redistricting and unites the three MQM factions of stood unified to exert more political pressure. As a result, the date for the local body elections was once again thrown off, and PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami, two other significant local political parties in Sindh, increased their pressure on the government to hold the elections on time.
At the end of the day, the Election Commission decided to hold the local body elections in Sindh following its released schedule, which is also a legal requirement and also a decision of the Supreme Court. The political crisis in the nation can now be avoided by holding elections for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and the Punjab Assembly after calm local council elections. Politicians, particularly the government partners, have acted foolishly just months before the next general elections when political stability is a necessary national requirement to continue the process of economic recovery. This is evident in the collapse of the assemblies of two provinces, which together make up nearly two-thirds of the entire country. Since doing so will help to avert further political unrest, the elections for the two provincial assemblies should be conducted in accordance with the law.