In order to ensure that common people enjoy the benefits of a democratic system, devolution of power to grassroots level is fundamental. The way to achieve that is to routinely conduct Local Government (LG) elections. Oddly enough, it has been military dictators who have encouraged this essential exercise throughout this country’s history, albeit on non-party basis. It has been the political parties themselves, which claim to champion the cause of democracy, that have acted as the biggest hurdle in the way of conducting local body elections. During the last government’s tenure from 2008 to 2013, despite several assurances and promises, our elected representatives refused to fulfill their constitutional obligation. With the exception of Balochistan, it appears that this time round too, the provincial governments are yet to find the resolve to do what they must.

It is important to understand the reason behind the reluctance on the part of provincial governments to carry out LG elections. The absence of a local government means that all powers rest with the members of national and provincial assemblies. MNAs and MPAs, who are primarily responsible for making laws and framing policies, instead receive millions in development funds. It is the local governments all over the world that handle these funds, which are to be spent on local infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads and so on. This purposeful deviation from democratic norms results in corruption, poor management, lack of development, and it is the common people who pay the price. With local governments in place, the provincial governments are bound to lose their iron grip on the system. It is all about control and money.

The acts passed by Punjab and Sindh assemblies with regards to the local government elections reveal the intentions of those in power. Yet again, the courts had to interfere and declare certain amendments null and void. Delimitations carried out by the provincial governments have been declared illegal, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been directed to perform this exercise as per their constitutional mandate. This means delay. Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP) Islamabad and Pakistan Security Printing Corporation (PSPC) have also requested more time to print the ballot papers. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government’s favoured biometric voting system is facing glitches. More delay.

So, despite what Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, claims before the media, the provincial governments are simply unwilling to relinquish absolute control. Their conduct with regards to the issue makes it extremely clear. But, in every street, in Punjab, Sindh and KPK alike, there are a dozen candidates itching to contest elections. The appetite is there, and so is the awareness of their constitutional right. The courts have intervened, the media is watching, and the people are ready. There is no other choice but to do the right thing.