Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry in a TV interview last week admitted that not holding the local bodies elections during the last two years was a big political mistake. He must be patted on his back for having the heft to speak out the truth.
Our constitution envisages a three-tier system – local governments, provincial governments and the federal government. But it is a regrettable reality that the country has mostly been run on two tiers. Even more painful is the fact that the elected governments which interspersed military regimes paid no attention to this constitutional obligation and ironically it was military regimes which established local governments during their power stints.
The first local government election was held in 1959 under the dictatorship of Ayub Khan. The second local government election was held in 1979 by General Ziaul Haq. The third local government election was held by General Musharraf in 2000. The only local bodies election held by an elected government was in December 2013, not because it had decided on its own to go for the fulfillment of the constitutional obligation but because it was ordered by the apex court. However, the local governments established as a result of the foregoing elections were not structured in conformity with the spirit of the constitution.
Article 140 A of the constitution says “Each province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments”. It is abundantly clear that under this article the local administration (including policing) is supposed to be under the elected bodies besides the responsibility to carry out development projects and powers to generate financial resources of their own. Bringing the police under control of the local government can greatly help in eliminating the ‘thana culture’. But that was never done.
The real issue is of good governance. Successive governments have failed to deliver to the people because of the perpetuation of the archaic colonial system of governance which has built-in avenues of graft and entitlement. The solution lies in two things – local governments in conformity with Article 140 A and a change in the way we elect our representatives.
For quite some time, echoes for the creation of more provinces have been resonating in the country with fluctuating intensity. We have heard demands for the creation of a new province of South Punjab, restoration of the state of Bahawalpur, carving out of Hazara province from the present Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and making Karachi a separate governing unit. The arguments in favour of the creation of more provinces usually have been poor governance, lack of development and distance factor from the provincial capitals.
My considered opinion shared by a myriad of intellectual and political analysts is that politics of more provinces is nothing but political gimmickry. Carving out new provinces from the existing provinces would require approval from the two-third majority of the respective legislatures as well as a similar nod from parliament which looks like a distant possibility in view of the permeating ambience of political confrontation. Even if by any chance the concerned parties agree to the propositions as a result of give and take, the creation of new provinces under the present system of governance and the existing mode of electing the representatives on the basis of single constituency, is not going to resolve the real issues which are advanced as arguments for the balkanization of the existing provinces. It would lead only to the creation of more centers of power to the advantage of vested interests.
People do not need more provinces on administrative or ethno-linguistic basis. They want and need their problems to be resolved at the local level, which can be done only through strengthening the local government as per the constitution. It is therefore incumbent upon the political parties to shun their traditional politics of befooling the people and show honesty of purpose in resolving their problems through improved governance in consonance with the constitution. As far as providing justice to the people at their doorsteps or near their homes, it can be done through setting up high court benches at every district headquarters and separating the judiciary from the administration in line with Article 175(3).
It is also imperative to break the hold of the elite classes on political power by changing the present system of electing our MNAs and MPAs. In the single constituency system only wealthy people can contest the elections and instead of the party leaders the real power rests with the so-called electables who play a pivotal role in the making and breaking of regimes. Since the majority of the constituencies belong to the rural and tribal areas, the prevalent system strengthens the hold of the feudal lords or elite classes belonging to the urban areas which have a common interest in perpetuating the archaic colonial system of governance.
The best way to break the hold of the elite on the political power in the country is to adopt the system of proportional representation for electing our parliamentarians. Under this system, people vote for parties rather than individual candidates in a single constituency and the parties get representation in parliament on the basis of the percentage of votes that they poll. The advantage of this system is that it reflects the real support for political parties among the people and also ensures the presence of smaller and regional parties in parliament, making the legislature a truly representative body. The party leaders are spared the blackmail by electables and they can nominate competent and educated people to represent the party in parliament.
The system also eliminates the possibility of horse-trading and floor-crossing for personal gains as well as political engineering. To make this system really workable, voting must be made compulsory so that every registered voter can exercise his/her right of franchise. If the political parties are really sincere about providing good governance to the people, they must cooperate with each other in introducing the required reforms in the existing system.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also needs to understand that in spite of his honesty of purpose he will not be able to implement his agenda of real change under the present system of governance. He might complete his tenure by pandering to the machinations of his coalition partners and keeping them in good stead to hold on to the power, but he will not be able to provide good governance despite all best efforts.
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