The local bodies system

Daily: The News
Date: 22.07.11

The government of the locals by the locals for the locals is a refrain to underline the
concept of the local government. The rationale of the refrain is that people inhabiting a
locality know their problems better than those who are considered others and hence can
solve the problems.

Interestingly, in Pakistan’s history, the military regimes initiated the local government system
under various tags. The latest version of the system called the Local Government System
(LGS) was pioneered by General Pervaiz Musharraf in 2001. The success story of the
system resounded in Karachi where the City Nazims Niamatullah Khan of Jamat-i-Islami (JI)
and Mustafa Kamal of Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), one after another, worked for the
development and progress of the city. The example is no doubt urban-based but can be
replicated in the rural areas to fetch benefits, if the performer is imbued with the will to
serve people.

The recent exit of the MQM from the central government offered an opening to the
government to re-introduce the incongruous commissionerate system in Sindh. The MQM is
back and with that the commissionerate system may be withdrawn. Nevertheless, a question
still invites attention why the military rulers take initiative to bring in the local government
system. There can be cited six reasons for that predisposition.

First, the military rulers usurp power from civilians (political governments) by toppling the
civil set-ups. They coin slogans such as ‘participation of people’ in the national affairs
through the local governments to solicit interest of people. This strategy produces a kind of
disconnect between politicians and their voters while bolsters esteem of the military regime
for being pro-people.

Second, the military rulers use the pretext of inculcating the lesson of democracy in people
as a justification to stay at the helm of affairs. This self-assigned duty helps the military
regime legalize its pouching on the civilian preserve in the name of service to democracy.
At the national level, the presence of the military is stretched (beyond ninety days, for
instance) to almost a decade and the service to democracy is also done by constructing a
contrived form of democracy called ‘controlled democracy’.

Third, the military rulers necessarily introduce non-party based elections. Through the
electoral episodes, new political competitors come forward and hence new stake holders
and interest groups are fashioned in society. After getting elected, these people shore up a
support base for their benefactors, as survival of the newly elected at the local government
level predicates on survival of the military ruler at the top. That is how a kind of patron-
client relationship develops which keeps on denting democracy in Pakistan.

Fourth, the military rulers back up the new contenders of power at the local level to polarize
the provincial and national political landscape (for the right or the wrong reasons). The
contenders in turn are found instrumental in facilitating the entry of the next military ruler in
the civilian realm. In this way, during the rule of a military dictator a team of sycophants
surfaces to act later on as a sleeper cell only to get activated whenever a ruling political
government is in trouble. The members of the cell start demanding intervention by the
military to ‘save the country’.

Fifth, the military rulers establish direct link with people through the elected members of the
local government system. In this way, both central and provincial governments (even if they
exist) become irrelevant. Referendums are held and constitutions are bypassed to seek
legitimacy in the eyes of both natives and foreigners. Later on, a pseudo-parliament is
erected to pass a constitutional amendment to provide a constitutional safeguard to the
extra-constitutional deeds of the stratocracy.

Sixth, the military rulers are habitual of getting their verdict implemented directly and
promptly. Through the local government system, they get their orders followed or
implemented without any delay. In this way, the military rulers get rid of the parliamentary
system’s intricacies which are anchored in dialogue and bargain to resolve difference of

Generally speaking, before partition, the local government system (under a different name)
existed in the selected parts of today’s Pakistan such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.
At that time, the in-charge of the local government was not an elected representative but a
government functionary (bureaucrat). Moreover, the local government system was not
autonomous in true sense of words. Taken these two points together, the central
government used to watch its interests in every administrative unit of the country. That
approach is still popular today. The central point in the introduction of the local government
system by the military rulers is to reach out to people and make them rationalize the
presence of the military in their own benefit.

During the general elections in 2008, the representatives of the local government, who had
been elected on non-party basis, tried to support the political party (PML-Q) to help it win
elections. The PML-Q was supporting General Pervaiz Musharraf to perpetuate his rule as
the president of Pakistan. In the electoral result, however, the contesting opponent political
parties won the elections. They all now consider the local government system more a
corollary of Musharraf’s military regime than a nursery for people to learn and practise
democracy. All efforts are being made to root out the local government system to wipe out
the remnants of a military dictator.

Unfortunately, in this conflict, no alternative local government system has been offered to
people despite the fact that both the Clause 10 of the Charter of Democracy (signed by the
PPP and PML-N) and Article 140-A (new insertion through the 18th Constitutional
Amendment) enjoin upon the incumbent government to hold elections to the local bodies to
establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial
responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.
Currently, the government is shirking its democratic and constitutional responsibility.

Back to columns in 2011