islamabad - Elected councillors yesterday unanimously demanded the federal government and provinces to accept local governments as third tier of government and ensure genuine and substantive devolution of financial and administrative powers to them.

Visibly perturbed by the cold shoulder given to them by bureaucracy and provinces, the elected representatives demanded their share in resources so that they could function smoothly and address the common man’s issues at the local level.

They also demanded constitutional protection to the LG system and asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to fill vacant reserved seats in local governments immediately and make them financially and administratively independent.

The demands were made at an All Pakistan Local Government Councillor’s Conference arranged here at National Press Club on Sunday in which hundreds of newly-elected councillors from Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad participated. The conference was arranged by Awami Workers Party (AWP).

The speakers said that although local governments have been put in place in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad, the ruling elite – including the bureaucracy, military establishment and mainstream parties – are not ready to devolve powers at the grassroots level. They said that the LG laws which were made in haste are replete with ambiguities, flaws and centralist authoritarian tendencies.

The speakers said the AWP was the only representative of working people, labourers, peasants, women, youth, religious minorities, and oppressed nations had taken its struggle into the electoral arena in these elections in hundreds of constituencies in the three provinces and won over 150 local government seats in multiple districts across the country.

Speaking on the occasion, AWP President Abid Hassan Minto congratulated the party’s winning councillors on their success and urged them to use their representative strength to continue their struggle for people’s rights across the country.

He said that it was important to remember that electoral victories were not an end for the AW P, but a means to struggle for a socialist society. He said that the party would continue its politics of resistance in the political, social, cultural and legal arena alongside its electoral battles.

“Unless the hold of money over the electoral process in Pakistan is broken, there could never be genuine democracy in the country,” Manto said.

Echoing these sentiments, AWP Chairman Fanoos Gujjar said, “The dark times we are living in call for progressive forces across the country to join hands in the struggle against obscurantism and authoritarianism.”

“The right-wing fundamentalist forces are on the move in the country to protect the feudal, capitalist, patriarchal and authoritarian order and it is the job of forces like the AWP to be counter them to lay the basis for a genuinely egalitarian, secular and socialist order,” he said.

The speakers demanded direct election of the councillors on reserved seats for women, peasants, labourers, religious minorities and youth in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan to ensure their genuine representation in the local governments.

They demanded change in setting the criteria and the definition of qualification of a candidate for worker and peasant seats so that non-peasant and non-labourer candidate could not be elected on these reserved seats.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was demanded to immediately fill in the vacant reserved seats in wards, union councils and district councils across the country. It was demanded that the Punjab government should hand over all local subjects including education and health to the local governments.

The speakers called for a law wherein the minimum honorarium of a councillor should be fixed at Rs 25,000 and allocation of substantial fund for smooth working. The government should arrange offices for the local governments.

A number of councillors on the occasion demanded that all development projects of district committees should be approved democratically from the local assemblies and the signature of merely the Nazim or mayor should not be acceptable.

They said that at union council level, all development projects should be executed under the supervision of elected representatives. Currently in Punjab the LG representative have no powers or few limited powers to approve a project.

The speakers also highlighted the history of AWP’s formation as a result of the merger of three left wing parties as a continuity of the left politics in Pakistan and its programme for comprehensive social change for which participation in the mainstream electoral process represents only one strategy.

AWP President Abid Hassan Minto, AWP Chairman Fanoos Gujjar, AWP secretary-general Farooq Tariq, AWP Punjab President Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, AWP Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa president Shahab Khattak, AWP founding member Ismat Shahjahan, and other were present on the occasion.