With the PPP and the MQM coming to an agreement over the local government system in Sindh after nearly five years of wrangling, there is healthy suspicion that this development — which could not take place during any stage in the preceding years — has only seen the light of day because the general elections are fast approaching. This makes it necessary for the PPP to ensure that the MQM remains a coalition partner at the centre. Without the seats the MQM brings from Karachi, it would be extremely difficult for the PPP to get enough allies to form a government. Sensing the leverage it had, the MQM also began holding exploratory coalition talks with the PML-N while discussions over the local government system were underway. Some would say that this was designed to make the PPP toe its line on the issue.
The agreement that the two parties have hashed out contains just about everything the MQM wanted with one important exception. Control of the police remains with the provincial government and will not go to the newly-elected local government officials. This was the one term that the PPP could not agree to as that would have ensured that its other allies in Sindh — the ANP, the PML-F and the PML-Q — would walk out, not only from the Sindh government but at the centre as well. For now, the PPP and the MQM have decided to overlook this issue but it could remain a sticking point that may undo this agreement in the future.
As it happens, the ANP, the PML-Q and the PML-F have decided to resign their provincial government positions and sit on the opposition benches. This protest will likely be temporary as they have agreed to continue supporting the PPP at the centre. Politics aside, it is undeniable that the local government system has worked well, particularly in Karachi where the MQM nazim, Mustafa Kamal, earned plaudits during his tenure. Added to that, the Supreme Court had also issued a verdict ordering that local government elections be held throughout the country. It may have been spurred by politics but the end result on local governments may, perhaps, not be all that salutary as far as the province is concerned because it may exacerbate polarisation.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2012.
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