As the rate of infection and death from the novel coronavirus is gradually coming down in the entire country, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has made a controversial decision of postponing local government elections in the province till November 2021. With it hopes of the return of local government institutions in one of the sensitive provinces of the country have died down. The same is the situation in the largest province of the country, the Punjab, and yet another very important federating unit, Balochistan.
Most issues of the provinces of Pakistan, or for that matter, Pakistanis, as they live in the provinces, are related to politico-administrative vacuums at the local tier of administration. In other words, as people live in villages, union councils and districts, most of their issues and problems are related to the local administration. The issues range from insecurity, lawlessness, agricultural and industrial development, public works, conflicts and disputes. However, if the local government with elected representatives not manning the administrative positions is not there, how come a myriad of problems faced by the people could be addressed? Unfortunately, there has been least realization within political parties and the elite of the importance and need of local government institutions in the country. A lack of realization is not because political leaders do not know the significance of the local government institutions but they fear that the structures would be against their political interests. In other words, ruling parties think that local government institutions in place would take away their power and resources. This is something stupid thinking on part of the political parties because if local government structures share their power and resources, then they would also share their public service responsibilities. It would provide more time and energy to provincial and federal governments to serve the masses in the shape of relevant and vibrant laws and policies. Consequently, the masses would support the political system and the most important outcome of it would be political stability in the country, which is essential for multifaceted development of society. As famous political scientist David Easton’s Input-Output model explains, political support and demands from the people are the inputs of the political system and public policies, works and development by the authorities are the outputs. Thus, with local government institutions in place, basic issues could be addressed on one hand, while on the other hand provincial governments could come up with vibrant policies and laws providing the context and direction for effective and good governance. However, self-centeredness, myopic thinking and incompetence on part of the political leadership have prevented it to happen in Pakistan, which has left the country unstable politically and reeling administratively. The situation has its roots in the lack of democratic culture in the country.
A vibrant democratic culture in Pakistan could not flourish because wider societal culture is ultraconservative with completely undemocratic institutions. The political culture takes its shape, substance and direction from the wider societal culture and, therefore, it is highly undemocratic. However, it is generally expected that the political culture and the system it produces would bring about pro-social changes and make it more open, accommodating and forward-looking. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s political system could not address the issues of the state, society and the people because it was established by the political elite which were the outcome of the same ultraconservative and undemocratic political culture.
There have been ever-growing civic problems in Pakistan, leading to the creation of many issues and even conflicts in the country and the key cause of the state of affairs is the lack of good governance at the primary level. The lack of good governance in the country, among other factors, has also been due to the ineffective local government system and bodies. Opponents of the theory of local government institutions as a panacea for most issues of people might argue that what difference they had made when the structures were in place in the provinces until a few years ago? It must be noted that by the end of the last year, elected local government institutions completed their respective tenures in four provinces. It was the second time that the local government bodies had completed their tenures on the trot. However, the local government bodies have not flowered as strong institutions in any of the provinces to be of any real value.
There are various reasons for the ineffectiveness and incapacity of the local government bodies in the provinces. The reasons range from personal inability, poor leadership, administrative lacunas, systemic constraints and lack of financial power. But the most important reason for the ineffective local government system has been the cunningness of the political parties, which do not allow the municipal bodies to flourish in the country and their respective provinces and strongholds. The government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), under the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan, wanted to introduce a strong and effective local government system in the country and it was to be enforced uniformly in all provinces. Regardless of the good intentions of PM Khan of the introduction of a vibrant and effective local government system, there has been stiff resistance from within the PTI to his proposals. As mentioned above, the reason is that if leaders of political parties allow the local government system to flourish in the country, it fundamentally compromises their personal and group interests.
The last time, the provincial governments of different political parties had unwillingly announced schedules for holding local bodies’ elections after great delay and defying the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) order. It was only after the strong intervention of the court that compelled them to hold elections. However, before that all political parties had joined hands and passed “unanimous” resolutions in the National Assembly and the Senate asking for the deferment of the polls citing various reasons for holding such a mega exercise.
Holding local government elections is a constitutional obligation of the provinces and the Centre and there must be no option but to hold the elections. Delaying LG polls would serve as a serious blow to the political system as the people have already lost faith in its utility and vibrancy.