After seventeen years, cantonment board elections were held in 42 out of 43 boards on Saturday. This was the first time that party-based elections were conducted in accordance with the Constitution. Although the government tried its best to avoid to make it a non-party contest, but the judiciary remained keen on the matter and compelled it to follow orders. That the Local Government (LG) polls are scheduled to take place in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa next is also because of the judiciary’s constant pressure on the ruling parties and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Results received so far show that most seats will be won by independent candidates. The PML-N and the PTI will emerge as leading political parties, with the latter trailing by a noticeable margin behind the former in line with the result of the general election in 2013. The MQM, as expected, is winning most seats in Karachi and Hyderabad. The PPP, the ANP, the JI, the JUI-F and other political parties have put up a disappointing show. The ANP remains unable to regain popularity in KP whereas the PPP’s performance makes it abundantly clear that the party has become a weaker, shrunken version of its former self. There are no signs of recovery, which serves as a testament to the many shortcomings of the current party leadership. Another distressing aspect of cantonment board elections is that no political or religious party fielded a female candidate. Credibility of an exercise in democracy is fairly diminished when one gender is completely sidelined. Political parties, especially those that propagate progressive values and equality, should answer for their failure to put oft-repeated enlightened words into practice.

The idea behind holding elections is to ensure representation and empowerment of people. For that purpose however, conducting polls alone often proves insufficient when other factors are ignored. To make cantonment board elections achieve the ultimate objective, it is important to fix the composition of cantonment boards through legislation. Elected members ought to have more powers than non-eleced members. One man sitting on top, generally a brigadier, should not have the authority to dismiss decisions made by public representatives. The government has proven quite inefficient in this regard. Without empowering civilians and making representation meaningful, the process will not bear fruit. That being said, it is still a positive development for democracy. It is hoped that the practice will continue without interruption.