LAHORE - Political parties in Punjab are preparing to take part in the upcoming local government polls on January 30 and election beyond that date.

Political parties are swinging between fear and hope as they have to fight for the mandate in party-based LG polls going to be held for the first time in Punjab history on a much broader and deeper scale quite different from that of the general elections.

Therefore, the LG polls activity in Punjab is bound to be much hectic for which the parties cherish different election dates to take over others. Pertinent to mention here that Punjab, the largest province of country housing 68 per cent of the total population and having the largest number of votes, differs from other provinces with regard to the election arrangements, political activity, candidatures, campaigning and other matters allied to the process. Sindh has demanded elections in March next although they have to be held on a smaller scale than Punjab where the election time may also be revised.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has announced to hold elections in Punjab on January 30 after the Supreme Court had asked the commission and the Punjab government to make consultations to agree on a mutually acceptable date. But next month when the apex judiciary will have a new custodian of justice system, situation may take a different turn. In view of that, the parties are getting ready to take part in elections keeping in mind all possibilities.

The PMN-N, PTI, PPP, JI and others are taking care of their own convenience with regard to the date of the LG polls. The PTI, the PML-Q and the JI staunchly want the LB polls not going beyond January 30 as this date suits their political ends. The PTI has framed eight points for the local government election wherein the party has laid special stress on holding the polls on the said date although it has also serious reservations on the appointment of executive officers as incharge of the election process. Somewhat the same stance is being held by the PML-Q and JI whereas the PPP appears indecisive on this score. Nevertheless the PPP, although in a low profile, is positioning itself to make full use of the election to rebuild its image shattered in the last general elections in Punjab. The PPP would not like to miss the LG opportunity to regain its lost glory and strength at grassroots level.

These parties on the Opposition end of the government feel in a good position to work up voters against the sitting government as the masses are feeling the pinch of inflation and other issues during the six month of PML-N rule. The prices of vegetables, fruits and other items of daily use are quite high while financial agony of the people has been aggravated due to rise in the electricity prices and continuous loadshedding. Petroleum prices are also at record high while law and order is not up to the mark too. Therefore, the situation is ripe for the Opposition to turn the tables on the government.

On the other hand, the PML-N would take part in election making sure it can repeat its general election performance in the LG polls. For which, as the party sources say, the party needs time at least by the end of March to win hearts and minds of voters who are disappointed with its performance so far.

Being the largest party in the province with strength of over 300 MPAs in the Punjab Assembly, PML-N’s own internal arrangements would need time.

The process of the huge number of candidates would pass through the approval of party head who being prime minister of Pakistan is busy in sorting out the difficulties facing the country on the internal and external fronts and revamping the economy. So is the case with Punjab president of the party.

The PML-N has passed signal to its legislators to pick up the potential and has also activated wings to find out candidates for the reserved seats of women, peasant, youth and technocrat. So far Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, heading a three-member committee, is taking care of all this but there is a long process ahead to finalise the names. Hence the party has yet to do a lot on the preparations side.

The party sources say that in case the elections are held on the said date, the PML-N has evolved a contingency plan wherein distribution of development funds and their use on the recommendation of candidates may figure in.

Although nomination papers (NPs) have been received yet further process is stalled as these need incorporation of the column requiring oath of finality of the Holy Prophet (SAW). It is not certain so far whether fresh papers would be printed or oath would be accepted on stamp papers. The EC has demanded Rs 6.5 billion from the government for conducting elections but so far it has received only half of it. It also needs time for preparing indelible magnetic ink, printing of 500 million ballot papers, and appointment and training of over 600,000 election staff majority of which have to perform duties in Punjab.

Another important feature is the time sought by the government to complete delimitation of the constituencies in the province, which however is short of the demand of the Opposition. The Opposition had demanded fresh delimitations after accusing the government of showing partiality in their demarcation in August-September last. Now, the government may need about two months to complete this process.

Another aspect indicating delay in the polls pertains to the amendments which the election commission sources say need to be brought to the LG Act 2013 to fit its provisions in the party-based system. The government had earlier amended only Section 18 of the Act which had been found quite inefficient. If the law again goes through the legislative process, it too would take time as more than half of the sections would be altered to fulfill the needs of party-based LG system. In view of all this, it may be said that Punjab government, any political party, individual or the election commission may fall back again on the Supreme Court next month, to pray for extension in the Punjab polls’ time.