Political parties and the Election Commission of Pakistan have heated up their campaigns and preparations, respectively, as the countdown for local government elections on 42 cantonment boards across the country begins. Polls will be held for a total of 219 general seats across Pakistan on September 12. In Sindh, different political parties are fielding candidates for 54 seats of general members on eight cantonment boards in the province. Six of these are in Karachi.
The main contenders for the 42 seats in the metropolis belong to the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Jamaat-e-Islami. Pak Sarzameen Party led by former city nazim Mustafa Kamal is also in the run this time.
The ECP has created wards in each of the six cantonment boards in the metropolis - Karachi Cantonment, Clifton Cantonment, Faisal Cantonment, Manora Cantonment, Korangi Creek Cantonment and Malir Cantonment - and the remaining two cantonments of the province - Hyderabad Cantonment and Pano Aqil Cantonment - based on their population.
Each ward will have a general seat and the number of general seats will be equal to the number of wards in each cantonment board, according to the Cantonment Ordinance 2002. Consequently, cantonments with a higher population will have a higher number of general seats on their respective boards.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Sindh Election Commissioner Syed Hyder confirmed that delimitations have been done according to the last census. "Yes, local government elections in cantonment boards are being held based on population figures of 2017."
Based on this, the Clifton Cantonment Board, Faisal Cantonment Board, Malir Cantonment Board and the Hyderabad Cantonment Board each have 10 general seats while the Karachi Cantonment Board has five seats for general members and the Korangi Creek Cantonment Board as many. Besides,there are two general seats each in the Manora Cantonment Board and the Pano Aqil Cantonment Board.
Polls to elect civilian members for cantonment boards are being held under an amended ordinance, which was initially promulgated by then military dictator General Pervez Musharraf in 2002.
Based on the 2002 law, the government may declare any place in which any part of the armed forces of Pakistan is quartered or where defence installations or defence production units are located, or any place, which by being in the vicinity of such places, is required for the service of such forces to be cantonment.
According to Section 26 of the law, a cantonment board is authorised "to approve taxes, cess, rates, rents, fees, usercharges, tolls, levies and duties proposed by Cantonment Administration".
These boards are also empowered "to approve land use, zoning and master plan, development and maintenance programmes or projects proposed by the Cantonment Administration" besides being authorised to undertake measures for improvement in the delivery of municipal services.
The former military dictator's 2002 ordinance is a continuation of the British era 1924 Act in which the station commander stationed in the area would continue to act as president of the cantonment and have unbridled power in the board comprising elected and non-elected members.
Prior to 1864, cantonments used to be administered by military authorities. The British rulers of pre-partition India in 1864 adopted an act and appointed a magistrate to administer the area. In 1880, another act was passed that empowered the cantonment authorities to impose taxes and a legal status was given to the cantonment committee. In 1924, a new act was enacted which introduced a representative local government system under which elected representatives of the civil population became members of the Cantonment Boards.
Around 104 candidates will contest the polls on the 10 general seats of Clifton Cantonment Board, 88 will compete in Faisal cantonment, 66 in Malir, 49 in Korangi Creek, 40 in Karachi cantonment and seven in Manora.
According to the ECP's records, the Clifton Cantonment Board has the largest number of residents with 305,938 people living in its jurisdiction. The Malir cantonment has 139,052 residents, Karachi cantonment has 68,877, Korangi Creek cantonment has 57,745 and Manora cantonment has 5,874 residents.
Out of these residents, a combined 498,959 people in Karachi's six cantonments are registered to vote. Of these, 193,251 voters are based in the jurisdiction of the Clifton Cantonment Board and 159,983 are based in the limits of the Faisal Cantonment Board. Both these cantonments also have a considerable number of female voters as well with 93,361 registered in the former and 78,294 in the latter.
In accordance with the 2002 ordinance, the cantonment boards will have 33 per cent reserved seats for women and five per cent each for peasants, youth, workers and minorities. However, these seats will be filled through indirect elections and the members elected on September 12 through a direct vote will elect members on the reserved seats. All these members together will elect a vice-president - the highest elected office in the board.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2021.
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