Cantonment board elections

The fact that polling closed peacefully, and no resentment was reported from political parties’ agents is a good omen

September 14, 2021

The ruling PTI has emerged as the front-runner in the cantonment board elections winning 62 seats. The PML-N and Independent candidates returned with 52 and 49 seats, respectively. Polling for 206 general seats in 39 Cantonment Boards across the country was held on Sunday. The PPP trailed with 14 seats, followed by MQM with 11, Jamaat-e-Islami five and the Balochistan Awami Party two. The fact that polling closed peacefully, and no resentment was reported from political parties’ agents is a good omen. Candidates from a few constituencies had returned unopposed, whereas voting was postponed in some for reasons of exigency.

The holding of local bodies’ elections in the vicinity of the Cantonments is a welcome development. It serves the broader purpose of grass-root representation, as well as an uninterrupted process of collecting taxes, managing civic services, and laying out developmental works in the military-cum-civilian residential areas. The periodic holding of Cantonment polls underscores the importance that these garrison-based residential-cum-commercial units attach to the power of the ballot, and the voice of the electorate.

This third major electoral exercise since the 2018 general elections, at the same time, points out at a laxity on the part of state authorities. There are no local bodies functioning across the country. The only exception is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa which took a leap forward to install vibrant LB units. Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan are wondering as to why the constitutionally mandated exercise is not conducted, per se; and what prevents the authorities from empowering grassroots representation. Karachi is a classic case of governance failure which has been longing for the local tier since 2013.

The fact that all political forces, including the banned TLP, took part in the Cantonment polls brings to fore their eagerness to be part of public dispensation. But the question is why these parties can’t rally for local bodies elections in an attempt to empower the masses, and address their grievances, accordingly. It is ironic they are at the forefront for provincial and national legislatures, but bow down when it comes to LB structure. This dichotomy and unrealistic behaviour need close introspection. It’s high time to hold LB polls countrywide.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2021.

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