The Supreme Court’s final verdict on holding local body elections by the end of September or the beginning of October is likely to turn large swathes of the country into political hives in the coming days.
At the moment, neither of the two largest parties--the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) seems prepared for the polls.
But that won’t stop the country’s political temperature from shooting up – now that election season is close at hand. Over the next few weeks, presidential and local body polls and parliamentary by-elections, are scheduled to be held.
It is the provincial government’s responsibility to hold local government polls within three months of the general elections, but that has not happened since 2002.
The PML-N did not conduct local body polls because it feared that Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) backed city nazims could influence the voting, whereas the PPP has a proven track record of avoiding local body elections. Thus, the Supreme Court is left with no other option but to issue an order.
However, the main opposition, the PPP, may also want local body polls to be held next year, in order to get a better chance to exploit the government’s weaknesses. However, since the system revolves around biradri and tribes, the parties that faced humiliating defeats in the May 11 polls may get a chance to perform better.
For the ruling party, the ideal time for polls is early next year, when the pressure of load-shedding is less. However, with over a two-thirds majority in Punjab and a comfortable margin at the Centre, the Sharif brothers may not mind going for LB polls in September, even though the Punjab government may ask the apex court for some more time.
Provinces have been asked by the Supreme Court to submit their replies by July 22 regarding the conduct of LB polls in September, and it seems unlikely that all four provinces would agree on holding elections on one day and under one system.
Elections are likely to be held on a party basis and that will be a real test for not just mainstream political parties but also for smaller parties. PML-N and PPP have faced embarrassing, but correct observations from the Supreme Court that the two parties had the opportunity to fulfill constitutional requirements of holding local body elections, doing delimitation and bringing new changes in the system, but both, despite being in the government are not ready to hold LB polls.
On the other hand, LB polls have given Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) the chance to perform better in the polls in Punjab. Moreover, if the PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) join hands, it could cause problems for the PML-N, although it still has a better chance because of its stronghold in the province and its administration.
Furthermore, an interesting scenario can emerge in Sindh, where despite Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) strong reservations on the revival of 1979 local bodies system, it may not boycott the elections, if it is held under an old system.
The LB polls may give the MQM a chance to stage a comeback, despite the ongoing investigations in London. The only electoral threat the party faces is in the form of an alliance between Pakistan Tehreeek-e-Insaf and Jamaat-e-Islami.
The PPP too has its own pockets of influence in Karachi. It won at least six out of 18 towns under the previous system, and could form an alliance with the Awami National Party. However, these parties will have to contend with the threat of attacks by militant outfits.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the ruling coalition comprising the PTI, JI and Watan Party could contest the elections from one platform, whereas the PML-N is capable of putting up a tough fight to the ruling alliance.
In Balochistan, there is little chance of an alliance in the ruling coalition, as the PML-N provincial president Sanaullah Zehri is not comfortable with National Party and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.
Thus the local bodies’ elections will be a blessing in disguise for tribes and biradris, but at the same time, with larger participation of the people and the political parties, it can certainly resolve many issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2013.