Saturday February 04, 2023

Devolution time

By Editorial Board
November 28, 2022

There appears to be no excuse now for the Sindh government to cause any delay in the local bodies elections in Hyderabad and Karachi. With the announcement by the Election Commission of Pakistan that it will hold local government elections in the two largest cities of Sindh on January 15, 2023, the countdown has started. The elections in the two divisions – originally scheduled for July 24 – have experienced multiple postponements. Repeatedly putting off elections was a bad omen for democracy at the grassroots level but the Sindh government kept requesting the ECP to delay elections on one pretext or another. The provincial government itself announced the third delay by citing the shortage of the required police officials who were reportedly busy with flood relief operations. The last postponement by the Sindh government was for 90 days, showing its reluctance to commit itself to provide the required security for LG elections anytime in coming weeks.There were serious questions about the legality of that announcement as it is normally the prerogative of the ECP to announce any such delay if the ECP deems it necessary.

Now the ECP has issued a new ruling through which it has ordered the provincial government and the chief secretary and other officials to provide a sufficient number of security personnel for election duty at the polling stations. In addition, security will also cover the offices of district returning officers and other polling staff. There is also an issue of secure transportation of polling materials to and from the offices of the returning officers. Keeping in view the political dimensions of Hyderabad and Karachi, coupled with an overall deteriorating law and order situation, foolproof security is a must and the government of Sindh must not evade its responsibilities in this regard

The ball is now in the Sindh government’s court but the federal government is also not an outside player as the ECP has directed the interior ministry to provide security personnel from other law-enforcement agencies too. The ECP deserves credit since it has repeatedly tried to hold local bodies elections. It is alarming to see provincial governments try and shy away from ensuring local government to their people. The process of local government elections are essential to people in any democracy, giving them much greater right to make decisions about their lives. Local bodies also allow people more direct control over governance. This perhaps is the reason why governments at the provincial level in particular have been traditionally reluctant to conduct LG polls. This must change now; democracy without devolution remains a farce.