The Punjab Assembly on Wednesday passed an amendment to the Local Government Act, and apart from the government, no one is satisfied by it at all. The opposition benches called the amendment a “sin” and minorities – which staged a protest in front of the assembly building – called it a “political apartheid”. These are strong words, used aptly to describe a piece of law that severely undercuts the purpose of Local Body elections.

The minorities contend that there is no provision in the act which allows them to directly elect their representatives. There are no reserved seats that the minorities can openly contest for, only a single seat is available in each union council for minorities, for which the candidate will be selected. The selection procedure takes the decision out of the hands of the community; it now rests with the other elected members. Moreover, considering Pakistan’s fragmented social structure, it is near impossible for them to gain enough support to win a seat in the general list. On paper minorities have a seat in every council and the opportunity to win even more, in reality the general seats will be beyond their reach and the selected seat will go to the politically well connected candidate – who is not always the people’s choice.

In itself, this is a grave error, which virtually disenfranchises minorities from one of the most important tiers of government, but the ordinance does not stop there. Each union council – consisting of eight elected members – must select 5 more member, two women, one worker, one youth and one non-Muslim. Once more on paper – and according to the waxing lyrical government benches – this represents a chance to create a more inclusive and expansive local bodies, yet on further analysis the illusion shatters quite easily. The most basic democratic rung has lost its democratic nature; 40% of the body will be selected and there is no system to ensure these selections will be done in a transparent and fair manner. If the rest of Pakistani politics is anything to go by, the 40% will be stocked will cronies, yes-men and personal relatives of the elected.

It is true that all legislatures have reserved seats and appointed positions, but none has a percentage as high as 40%. The voice to legitimate elected can be easily swept aside. The person who has the ultimate say on the selection now hold in his hand the power to ensure that every single union council decision goes in his favour and that is the antithesis of what a local body is supposed to be.

The Punjab government must immediately remove the amendment – at the very least the percentage should be brought down by a hefty margin. Otherwise the LG polls will be a farce of democratic principals.