Tuesday April 16, 2024

Unprecedented suspension

By Editorial Board
July 13, 2018

The Election Commission of Pakistan is given extraordinary powers in the run-up to the elections but that power comes with a responsibility too. The ECP is trusted to take decisions for the common good and ensuring free and fair elections are held with the minimum of inconvenience to the public. In deciding to suspend all local government officials around the country till Election Day, the ECP has not lived up to its responsibility. The rationale given by the ECP for the decision is that it wants to prevent local government officials from trying to influence election-related activities in their areas and using funds to benefit particular candidates. This seriously overestimates the ability of local government officials to manipulate the elections. One of the unintended side effects of the 18th Amendment to the constitution was that provinces took over a lot of the powers that previously belonged to local governments. Consequently, their funding was greatly reduced. Even if local government officials were inclined to use these funds for promoting their parties, the job of the ECP should be to take action once it has spotted any wrongdoing rather than imposing a blanket suspension.

The suspension is going to have an immediate impact on the daily lives of citizens around the country. Duties that were previously the responsibility of local government officials such as trash collection will now pass to the caretaker provincial governments till July 25. The process will not be seamless as it will take time for authorities to efficiently carry out a job for which they are not trained. As we saw during the recent rains in Lahore, the failure of the authorities to clear storm drains in the month before the rains arrived led to mass flooding. There have already been a lot of allegations of rigging, with some talking of pressure being put on candidates to defect to other parties and others complaining about seemingly arbitrary arrests. But the complaints have not been directed against local government officials. This is the first time local government officials have been suspended in the run-up to elections and the ECP has not been able to justify this unprecedented step. The ECP needs to look into the allegations of impropriety that are made rather than deciding that democratically-elected officials are part of the problem. Undoubtedly, the elections are important and the ECP has to do what it can to ensure their fairness. But it should not be at the cost of basic governance.