The political leadership of the country across provinces has historically lacked the will to allow an effective local self-government system to take roots. Had they not been compelled by the Supreme Court through an order in 2014, they would not have moved an inch on the issue of holding elections. Now once again, provinces are least concerned about missing deadlines and refuse to provide necessary information as demanded by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The coronavirus pandemic cannot be used as an excuse for abdication of responsibilities that should have been fulfilled some time ago.

The reality of the situation is that the elite political class has no regard for the fundamental role of local bodies in a functioning democracy. They pass acts aimed to minimise devolution of power and refuse to create laws that would allow the local body system to become financially autonomous. Local self-governments should be able to generate their own revenue and resources through taxation. In this absence of this, they have to survive on funds from provincial and federal governments, which use this power to pursue their own political agendas. The bureaucracy is more than happy to oblige, even encourage them to remain on this path because it has a self-interest in retaining an inflated role. This is yet another feature of Pakistan’s colonial legacy that torments citizens to this day.

In functioning democracies, local governments perform a wide array of crucial functions. These may include provision of basic health facilities, basic education, maintenance of law and order, water supplies and sanitation, agriculture, infrastructure development, rescue and firefighting, revenue generation, transportation and on and on the list goes. How can all these functions ever be effectively performed by a few MNAs and MPAs through bureaucrats? Politicians must cooperate with the ECP to hold local body elections, and allow the system to assume its rightful place in the country.