LAHORE - The Punjab government seems to be interested in holding the local government election after addressing all fears which may threaten its political standing in this largest province of the country.

But the observations and remarks made of late by the Supreme Court on the inordinate delay in local government (LG) polls show that the apex court is running out of patience on the procrastinating attitude of Punjab and the Sindh governments and there appears to be little room left for further concessions in this regard by the court.

Over the last five years, the court has been insisting on all provinces for holding LG polls after this institution at the basic level was dissolved in October 2009 on the completion of four-year term. As custodian of the constitution the court feels that repeatedly given directions for the LG polls did not receive due respect at the governments’ end and its orders have been pushed behind the amendments, law making, national elections, security situation etc in the country.

Following instructions of the SC, provincial representatives appeared before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Punjab expressed willingness to hold the election in November, Sindh in March next year and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) in June next. But there are grave suspicions about the commitments given by Punjab and Sindh in this regard.

From lukewarm response by the governments to the ECP demands, a strong perception has developed among the political observers on the LG election going beyond November in Punjab. In order to kick start the process of delimitation for LG polls the ECP is awaiting the notification of demarcation of local areas, determination of number of union councils/wards and authenticated maps from the Punjab government as well as amendments in the relevant laws.

Moreover, certain men in the ruling PML-N themselves are not sure about the local government polls in November and when they were contacted with this proposition, they commented on it on the condition of not being named. Some others expressed the possibility of holding of polls in November provided a ‘conducive’ atmosphere in current terror-stricken society emerges.

However, almost they all said in varying tone that at the party level no preparations were going on nor any working was underway to hold the election as the entire focus of the Punjab government was on counter-terror measures and security related issues. Some legal complications regarding legislation on holding the LB polls in cantonment boards is also taking undue time to kick off work on this side.

But one PML-N source said that a committee has been formed by the government to furnish things required by the election commission. He claimed that less than a dozen districts of total 36 in Punjab were left for furnishing data to the ECP.

On contact, former ECP secretary Kunwar Dilshad said holding of local government election in Punjab was still a long way. He did not see the event taking place at least for one and a half years in Punjab primarily giving the reasons that it does not suit the provincial government at this stage when the PTI by way of winning constituencies at the grassroots level can stand as a robust political rival to it in addition to getting an opportunity to firm the party at the basic level of public representation.

It also does not stand in good stead for the government to share power and resources with the local representatives, while bureaucratic loathe to this tier is another factor, he said. If flow of development funds is diverted to the LG institution, which is its constitutional right, the ruling party may land into troubled water for having nothing to dole out to the legislators under the head of ‘development funds’ and the fear would loom large of their getting astray from the ruling party and taking independent line at the time of need, he added. Kunwar said politically its suits the ruling party to linger on the LG election to the maximum, which has been a tradition with every political government since inception of the Constitution in 1973.

Moreover, after the LG election has been made a subject matter of the provinces under the 18th Amendment, a centralised command system has vanished. As such election in one province does not necessarily oblige the others to follow the suit and the gap between holding of the elections by the provinces at different times is no more a serious issue. Rather it provides opportunity, particularly to the ruling PML-N, to test its worth and get a political foothold in the smaller provinces. The same happened in Balochistan where LG polls took place months ago and on the theme of give and take, the institution is operational through the PML-N and its allied parties since there exists no major threat like PTI in that province.

In Punjab, the observers count many factors taking the LG polls beyond November. They say national census, fresh delimitations, updating of the electoral rolls or elimination of any legal lacunae may help the government to achieve the end. They say European Union has also desired the LG polls following national census, and this need has also been emphasised by the court in a separate hearing. And if the census takes the lead then it will be followed by delimitations and then electoral rolls on the basis of updated demographical strength of the province.

Another factor is law and order situation which will be taken into account before the elections. Observers say even if the government agrees before the SC to hold LG polls in November even then the polls are open to take more time. From the past precedents when LG polls took time through judicial proceedings on party based elections and delimitation of constituencies by the Election Commission instead of the government, the observers expressed the possibility of any other legal issue relating to the polls being led to the court to get relief of time in holding the polls.