KARACHI: The Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA), 2013, is missing crucial details such as rights of candidates, rules on election expenses, voting process, counting and transparency.
These lacunas in the SLGA were revealed in a study conducted by the Local Election Framework Assessment (LEFA) at a workshop organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan at Regent Plaza Hotel on Thursday. The study revealed that these important provisions are missing entirely from the act.
Besides, key electoral issues are split between acts, rules and provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act (ROPA), 1976, which gives rise to ambiguous legal hierarchy, it added.
Hassan Nasir Mirbahar of the Improving Parliamentary Performance in Pakistan (IP3), who presented the LEFA study, said that there was no public discussion on the legal framework and there was limited debate on provisions of the bill in the assembly. Inputs were sought only from selected stakeholders and there was no consultation or debate on the amendments at all, he added.
The Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) independence has been compromised as powers to alter polling schemes have been given to district returning officers, said Mirbahar, adding that the power to suspend an election official has also not been given to the ECP. Neither have the qualifications of the polling staff outlined nor have a bar been placed on poll staff affiliated with political parties, he pointed out.
The electoral system has been inadequately defined as it’s not clear if it uses simple or absolute majority, said Mirbahar, adding that the number of votes per voter has not been stipulated in the law either. “A timeline for fresh elections is also missing.”
It is unclear how the panel system will work and there has been no schedule for indirect elections. When it came to delimitation, Mirbahar said that insufficient and problematic provisions have been added in the SLGA as detailed criteria and procedure are missing and unfettered powers have been given to government.
Frequency of the delimitation process has not been provided and no independent authority has been formed to carry out delimitation, which led to nullification of the delimitation exercise by the Sindh High Court in the first place. Full registration criterion has also not been spelled out, he said, adding that residency requirement is not mentioned and the need for a CNIC for registration has not been stipulated. No transparency requirements are outlined in the voter registration procedures and no secrecy has been guaranteed, he added.
The SLGA states that the announcement of full tallies is not required, no immediate results will be displayed at the polling station and there will be no immediate publication of results by the polling station on the ECP website, the study revealed. There is no timeline for the consolidation and publication of results and the ROs will announce the results instead of the ECP, it added.
Against democratic norms
Among other issues, one factor that goes against democratic norms is that one cannot appeal the exclusion from the voters’ list, or the decisions of ROs or the ECP, the allocation of symbols, discrimination and campaign issues, said Mirbahar. Women are underrepresented and no legal provisions on safeguards against forced-disenfranchisement of women are present in the law, he added.
After the 18th Amendment, article 140 (a) of the Constitution bounds the provincial governments to conduct local bodies elections, said Mirbahar. No local bodies elections have been conducted in Sindh for the last four years, he pointed out.
IA Rehman of the HRCP said that democracy was not visible in the SLGA. “If it doesn’t support democracy, then it is useless,” he said. “This law is said to be the basis of the democratic system but it lacks guidance in so many issues. It’s a dry legislation and I don’t see much humanity in it.”
Lala Hassan of Democracy Reporting International said that parties were ready to deliver political and administrative powers but they were unwilling to give the financial powers to the grass-root levels.
Heer Soho of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement said that powers should be shifted to towns, UCs, districts and villages. Abdul Khaliq Junejo of the Jeay Sindh Mahaz spoke about provincial autonomy and how most decisions were still made by the federal government. “The Centre will never have resources in the next 20 years to solve local issues. Only a local government can solve local issues,” Rehman concluded.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.