The opposition’s criticism of the Punjab government’s failure to implement the Punjab Local Government Bill 2019 is not wholly unwarranted, considering that the law was approved nearly three months ago and no progress has been seen so far. The new law sent old local government representatives packing without any replacements and it is high time that the government delivers on its promise of strengthening grassroots democracy.

However, even though the government is stalling in its own plans, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal’s request for the Supreme Court to restore the old set-up will likely fall on deaf ears. Previous governments, including the last PML-N regime, have modified, scrapped and delayed laws concerning local governments in the past, which is why it is not surprising that PTI is not overly committed to local government reform.

The Pakistani political system is not conducive towards fostering grassroots democracy, and the concentration of power in the hands of upper party leadership in all mainstream political parties makes it so that local leaders are not empowered enough to ensure that the local government system is not disrupted every time a new government is formed. The only way to make sure that local government is not dissolved every five years is if they hold real power, and the law approved by PTI might just do that by handing funds to districts and making grassroots leaders more accountable by allowing for revenue collection in cities and towns.

It is important to understand, however, that any system of local government will only stay unchanged if it is seen to be working. Each time a government forms a local government law, the delays caused in implementing it usually mean that local leaders never have the time to demonstrate why their role is fundamental in the democratic process. PTI has an ambitious plan with local governments - fund collection and spending can only be seen to be effective if local governments are given the time to implement some strategy. It can only be hoped that the ruling party does provide the time for its ideas to come to fruition, otherwise we might see another party chopping and changing the local government system once more.