Devolution of power: Opposition pessimistic about local govt elections

Delimitation, census and government’s lukewarm attitude seen as main hurdles.

Ali Usman November 16, 2014


Local government elections are unlikely to be held in the near future because the government is not willing to devolve power to local level right now, several opposition lawmakers said on Sunday.

“After amendments to the Punjab Local Government Ordinance 2001 and Punjab Local Government Act 2013, the provincial assembly has authorised the Election Commission of Pakistan to carry out delimitations. The Supreme Court had earlier asked the ECP to complete the delimitation process in 90 days. However, the commission has asked for 180 days. The petitions on the matter are still before the court. The 180-day clock has yet to start ticking,” said Salman Abid, the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) regional head.

“The ECP has stated that it cannot start the delimitation process without a new census. This does not seem to be happening anywhere soon. A standing committee of the Senate has also recommended that the census be held before the delimitations,” Abid said.

“At this point in time, the Punjab government is not ready to delegate its powers to the district and union council levels. The political scene is already abuzz with the talk of mid-term elections. The PML-N does not want to risk its rule by going ahead with the local government elections now. Should some of the districts slip out of its hands in such elections, it will not be possible for the government to run the province smoothly,” a Pakistan Peoples Party MPA told The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity.

Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed told The Express Tribune that he had proposed 11 amendments to the Local Government Amendment Bill in 2014. “The government did not agree. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is not interested in devolution of powers,” he said.

PPP information secretary Tanvir Ashraf Kaira said: “We do not see the local government elections being held in the Punjab soon. The government does not seem interested in holding the elections. There are, therefore, many excuses advanced for not doing so.”

Pakistan Muslim League-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahi told The Express Tribune that the local government system was in the best interests of the people as it had the capacity of resolving their issues on their doorstep. “However, the current government has always been opposed to the idea. We have been demanding the local government elections for a long time. Whenever their schedule is announced, our party will fully participate in them,” he said.

Parliamentary Secretary Rana Muhammad Arshad said that the government was prepared to hold the local government elections whenever the ECP agreed. “The ECP has to first complete the delimitation process. The assembly has passed this authority to the commission so that the process can go ahead,” he said.

Arshad said that no timeframe could be given for holding the local government elections since the ECP had to carry out the delimitations first.

To a question about the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) reservations about the ECP, he said: “The PTI and Imran Khan do not recognise so many things. If they do not accept the ECP’s authority on delimitations, we can do nothing about it.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2014.

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