After inflicting irreparable loss to the economy and development plans, COVID-19 has another new victim in its sights. The unfortunate victim is no other but the Punjab Local Government (LG) elections 2020. Nobody knows whether arrangements of elections may take place or ominousness will loom large. Even the government is not completely sure about holding the polls, and hence failed to set an exact date for Punjab LG elections 2020.

The pandemic has been overshadowing the fate of the LG polls since the onset of the year. From March till date, when the lockdown came into effect, coronavirus has clinched first place on the top priority list. The rest of the things, all macro and micro responsibilities have taken a back seat. The virus’s devastation is so sudden and widespread that it did not let the government keep its focus intact and compelled the democratic system to compromise on the local government elections.

Funds that were supposed to be spent on various development schemes have been diverted to fight COVID-19 and its catastrophic implications. As per experts, SARS-CoV-2 has eroded more than 50 percent of government funds dedicated to multiple public service works. Meanwhile, most of the 2020-21 budget allocations have also pivoted on neutralising coronavirus.

The polls were supposed to be held in June 2020. They have now been deferred till the end of 2020. However, a specific deadline has not been given.

On April 30, 2019, the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab passed two pieces of legislation: the Punjab Local Government Act 2019 (PLGA-19) and the Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Act 2019 (VP&NCA-19). Both pieces of legislation entered into force with their notification in the Punjab Gazette on May 4, 2019. On the same day, existing local governments constituted under the PLGA-13 were dissolved by Government Notification No. SOR(LG)38-34/2018 and replaced by administrators from the civil administration. Both acts envisage a transition period of up to 12 months between the previous and the new system, and local elections were likely to be held in mid-2020. However, it proved to be a pie in the sky.

The failure of the government to hold local bodies’ elections is in violation of the Elections Act, 2017, according to which fresh elections should be conducted within 120 days after dissolution of the last setup.

Section 219 (4) of the Elections Act, 2017 states that the Commission (Election Commission of Pakistan) shall hold elections for the local governments within 120 days of the expiry of the term of the local governments of a province, cantonment and Islamabad capital territory.

It is also a violation of Article 140-A of the Constitution that stated “each province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.

Local governments have a substantial impact on people’s lives. Most residents are aware that their local government is responsible for local services from parks and gardens to waste management and recycling, from building approvals to libraries, from childcare to public health, from parking to economic development, from aged care to roads maintenance, and much more.

Local governments not only provide these services but are responsible for identifying and pursuing the many other distinct needs of their community, and for ensuring that state and Commonwealth policies affecting their communities make proper allowance for their local needs.

It is encouraging that Prime Minister Imran Khan has shown his keen interest in holding the Punjab LG polls as soon as possible. After he directed CM Punjab Usman Buzdar to do the needful in line with direction of the Election Commission of Pakistan, the local government department has submitted the all required documents to ECP.

The Punjab government has framed rules for delimitations of constituencies for neighbourhood councils and Village Punchayats under the Local Government Act, 2019.

Authorities believe that a major obstacle in the way of holding local government elections this year has been removed after enactment of these rules.

According to the new rules, the Election Commission will constitute district delimitation authorities in all districts of the province comprising civil servants and members from the Election Commission and the judiciary.

The judicial officers will be inducted in the authorities in consultation with the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court. The district authorities will supervise the whole process of delimitations in accordance with the set rules. The rules regarding delimitations have been sent to the Election Commission to proceed further on the subject matter.