Dr. Hasan Askari
The local government elections were due in 2010 after the expiry of the tenure of the local government towards the end of 2009. The provincial assemblies did not pass new laws for local government system in 2010-2011. The provincial governments were not keen about holding local government elections
The MQM in Sindh was in favor of holding local government elections because they hoped to win these in major cities which are MQM’s strongholds. They supported to continuation of the system of local government under the 2001 law enforced by the Musharraf government which gave enormous powers to district governments. The PPP was in favor of adoption of the 1979 local government law with some changes that established district council and lower level council with limited powers.
The divergence between the MQM and the PPP on the local government structure caused bitterness amongst them. The first round of negotiations between the MQM failed to produce an understanding on the nature of local government system. The Sindh government issued an ordinance, reviving the 1979 local government system with some changes. The MQM was furious and decided to challenge it in the streets. The new round of negotiations between the MQM and the PPP resulted in an understanding to keep the matter pending. The ordinance was allowed to lapse.
It was only two weeks ago that President Asif Ali Zardari announced that local government elections would be held before the general elections. No province responded positively to this proposal. However, in Sindh, the PPP and the MQM revived their dialogue and after some hard bargaining they decided to create a mixed system of local government that combined the features of the local government laws of 2001 and 1979. Five cities were given District Governments on the pattern of the 2001 law with slight reduction of powers. The rest of Sindh was given the district council system as it existed in the 1979 law.
When the new Ordinance entitled “Sindh People’s Government Ordinance, 2012” was issued in the second week of September 2012, offering a dual system of local government, the PPP and the MQM were happy that they could opt for local government elections before the general elections.
However, the smaller allies of the Sindh government like the PML-Functional and the ANP got angry and decided to quit the provincial government in protest against the introduction of the new local government ordinance without taking them in confidence. They were joined by Sindhi nationalist groups who described the new local government ordinance as the beginning of the division of Sindh. They were also unhappy because they felt that the PPP was bending too much to satisfy the MQM. These smaller political parties and Sindhi nationalist groups decided to hold a province wide protest on September 13. The PMLN decided to support these parties and groups in order to increase pressure on the MQM and the PPP.
Despite the major fire incident in a garment factory in Karachi, these groups went for protest on September 13 which proved to be a low-key affair The leaders of these parties and groups plan to continue protesting against the new local government ordinance. The exit of two smaller parties from the Sindh ruling coalition does not threaten the future of the provincial government because the PPP and the MQM still have a comfortable majority in the provincial assembly.
The PPP and the MQM argue that the holding of local government election is a constitutional requirement and that the smaller political parties and the nationalist groups are totally wrong to assume that the new local government ordinance is the beginning of division of the province of Sindh.
Local elections can be held before the general elections because there are seven months to the expiry of the tenure of the parliament and the provincial assembly. However, the sudden decision to hold local elections looks like a partisan political move rather than their genuine commitment to democracy at the grass-roots level.
Further, local elections can be held in Sindh only. No other province is willing to hold these elections. The opposition views the PPP and the MQM decision to go for local elections as an attempt to stretch the tenure of the present governments and the assemblies to the maximum possible limit.
There was no need for the PPP to kick off a new crisis for itself at a time when it faces strong pressures from the Supreme Court and the military. The opposition gets a new issue to engage in political onslaught against the PPP.
Instead of indulging into controversial ventures the PPP needs to hold general elections towards the end of December or in January. There is no reason to delay national elections until after the expiry of the tenure of the National and Provincial Assembly in the third week of March.
The stretching of the tenure does not serve the political interests of the PPP because the performance of its governments at the provincial or federal levels is not expected to improve in the next seven months. There are no indications that the PPP can turn the tide so far as the economy, electric power generation and security of life and property are concerned. The PPP will alienate more people during September 2012—March 2013. Further, the Supreme Court has by now become a political player and it will continue to pressure the PPP.
Given the current controversy in Sindh about local government, the PPP and the MQM may not be able to hold local government elections. It is in the interest of the PPP to forget about local government elections and hold general elections instead.