The Local Government (LG) polls have come to an end. The day was marred with violence and death. The polls were held in Punjab and Sindh after a decade, and to expect this highly charged event to go on with peace and order was perhaps expecting too much. This was the first phase of the polls under which over 25 million citizens were to exercise their right to elect local government representatives in 12 districts of Punjab and 8 of Sindh. Other districts in the two provinces will go to polls in two phases to follow.

The polls had been delayed as much as possible, as the ruling parties in the provinces resisted this ‘division of power’ for a very long time. Where democracy essentially means the rule of the people, actual representation of the grass root level remains unseen in Pakistani politics.

For the justice system to push for the LG polls is an achievement in the name of democracy. They also provide the marginalised segment of society and people in remote areas an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process at a local level.

Once the people will cast their vote and give their mandate, can we truly hope for a transformative effect in the way business is conducted in these areas? Probably not. The serving parties have manipulated these laws that govern this introduction of a third tier into the present system. For example, the all-important subjects of education and health are out of bounds for the elected local bodies. Many limitations have been placed on the powers of the local representatives.

One might question if there is a point at all of introducing this system, but every cloud has a silver lining: the fact that these elections will throw up a new popular verdict and since these are party-based elections, the verdict will bear party colours. The results will increase the pressure on the parties so there will be no escape from seeing results as a judgment on their performance.

Elected governments in Pakistan have never before gone through such large-scale, realignment experiences and this will give all the contestants a chance to make the maximum effort to swing the vote in their favor before the next general elections. All parties must ensure peaceful acceptance of the results and work towards the transition of power to the local representatives, however small.