Monday October 18, 2021

Cantonment polls

September 16, 2021

For any democratic process to thrive, fair and free elections at all tiers of government are of vital importance. The recently concluded elections of the cantonment boards across the country are a fine example of how people’s participation in such exercise can reveal the directions of winds blowing in the country’s political fields. The political parties – both winning and losing – can readjust the sails of their ships to navigate in the coming months and years. The results show some mixed trends with wins and losses on all sides. Though the ruling PTI has emerged as the leading party once again by winning 63 seats from 41 cantonments in the country, it has also received some blows in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. In KP the PTI has been ruling since 2013 and after eight years of its rule people in these relatively posh areas have shown their displeasure. In Punjab too – in consonance with the results of by-elections – the PTI has suffered major losses.

The way the PTI has been handling affairs at the federal and provincial levels seems to have a direct bearing at the local level too. The leadership crisis and the deteriorating financial management at both federal and provincial levels have had their impact at the local level. People across the country – from cantonments to the countryside – have been suffering from rising inflation and surging prices of basic commodities. Compared to a general election, polls at the cantonment board level are also significantly different. The cantonment boards across the country are located in major urban centres and for the most part, are made up of relatively affluent people for whom the general management of civic affairs is one of the main factors in board elections. People living in the areas covered seek candidates who can improve the situation of sanitation, water provision, solid waste management, and the other affairs of daily life. This is something the ruling party should be concerned about, given that it made governance and corruption a strong plank during the 2018 general elections.

In Punjab, the PML-N has performed much better, winning 48 seats whereas the PTI managed to gain hardly 31 seats. That both the PML-N and PPP have emerged as provincial rather than national parties should be a cause of concern for them too though. The country needs more political parties that can show a national character rather than a provincial or local one. A large number of independent candidates winning the elections is not a good sign as it reflects personal preferences and not ideological or organisational ones. The cantonment elections may not be a certain trendsetter for the next general elections, but they do reflect the mood of the people to some extent. All provincial governments now must proceed to hold local government elections in their respective jurisdictions.