All local government functionaries stand suspended till the July 25 vote—except for performing the normal functions of sanitation and cleanliness. The Election Commission of Pakistan has taken the unprecedented step to, what it says, prevent any action on the part of local government institutions to influence the results of the upcoming general elections. The electoral body says it is duty-bound to ‘provide level-playing field to all candidates’ and deems it necessary to stop the local governments from being active till the vote day — a clear distrust in the impartiality, in fact the very existence and purpose of these governments.
Local governments are considered the essence of democracy, meant to ensure democratic and accountable governance, besides delivery of services at the grassroots level. And they have done exactly that in a large part of the world. Unfortunately in Pakistan, local governments have historically been treated as a tool by rulers at the top to serve their vested interests. While the dictators used this tool to acquire political legitimacy and undermine political parties, the civilian rulers wielded it tight to hold political sway and outmanoeuvre their rivals and critics, exhibiting a reckless disregard for the basic tier of democracy.
Talking of the recent times, local governments in the four provinces are mostly designed to centralise power in the hands of provincial governments. In case of Punjab, these governments can even be sent packing anytime by provincial rulers — and that too very lawfully. No wonder then, the local government functionaries are mostly found at the beck and call of their provincial masters. Seen in this context, the impartiality of the local government system is quite rightly in question — and will remain so until the elected representatives at the top are genuinely ready to give way to the basic democrats.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2018.