More than 5,200 candidates are vying for chairman and vice chairman and around 32,000 for general councillor seats in the third phase of local government elections in 12 districts, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The elections will be held on December 5 in Rawalpindi, Multan, Bahawalpur, Sialkot, Narowal, Khushab, Jhang, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rahim Yar Khan. The elections will be held in 2,507 union councils and wards in five municipal corporations, 12 district councils and 58 municipal committees.
Of the 4,502 candidates for chairman and vice chairman in 12 district councils, 15 have been elected unopposed. Of the 749 chairman-vice chairman panels in five municipal corporations of Rawalpindi, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sialkot, Multan and Bahawalpur, three have been elected unopposed. The highest number of chairman and vice chairman candidates for municipal corporations in a district are 201 and 284 in Rawalpindi and Multan, respectively.
Of the 31,848 candidates in the race for general councillors, 520 have been elected unopposed. Among the five municipal corporations, the highest number of candidates vying for general seats are 1,462 and 1,039 from Multan and Rawalpindi, respectively. As many as 800 candidates each are in the run for general seats at municipal committees of Rahim Yar Khan and Muzaffargarh, followed by Jhang with 602 contestants.
For district councils, the highest number of candidates in the field are from Sialkot (2,868) followed by Muzaffargarh (2,715) and Rahim Yar Khan (2,509).
Women and minority communities
As many as 26 women and three non-Muslim candidates are vying for chairman and vice chairman seats. The non-Muslim candidates are from Rawalpindi, Jhang and Layyah. No woman candidates have been fielded in Rahim Yar Khan.
Of the 31, 848 general seat candidates, 90 are women and 51 from minority communities.
The highest number of women participating in the elections is 13, 12 and 11 from Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur, respectively. Two women candidates are in the run for general seats in Sialkot. As many as 15 minority-community members are vying for general seats in Bahawalpur, followed by nine in Rawalpindi and seven in Khushab. No non-Muslim candidate is in the run for general seats in Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.
“The electoral dynamics in southern Punjab are different from the central divisions of the province,” says Ghulam Sarwar Bari, the national coordinator of Pattan Development Organisation which is monitoring the elections. He says the majority of districts where the elections are being held in the third phase are in the Seraiki belt.
He says that traditionally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has not been strong in the region. A shift in this regard was however observed in the 2013 general elections, Bari says. “The Pakistan Peoples Party’s presence at the grassroots cannot be ignored.”
Bari says the third phase of polls involves a greater fraction of rural areas which he claims are easy to control using state apparatus.
Sangat Development Foundation (SDF) executive director Zahid Islam says the issues related to gender and religious discrimination, flaws in electoral laws and absence of political manifestoes for local government elections make the benefits of the exercise doubtful.
Islam says a “backward political culture” turns elections into selections. “Securing a ticket of a major political party has become more important for the candidates. Those who get tickets of the ruling party have a better chance of being elected.”
The SDF, a partner of the Free and Fair Election Network, is one of the organisations monitoring the elections. Islam says he believes that the irregularities reported in the first two phases would recur in the third phase because “no steps have been taken to overcome shortcomings”.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2015.