Let’s not put the horse before the cart
Over the last four years, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has become so used to facing one crisis after another that its leadership does not mind creating a crisis for itself. It now faces a new crisis caused by the issuance of the Sindh People’s Government Ordinance, 2012 as a part of the PPP’s desire to hold local elections prior to the general elections.
The PPP and the MQM have agreed on this but all other political parties in Sindh have taken a strong exception to the ordinance and the holding of local bodies elections.
The PPP and the MQM can argue that the holding of local bodies election is a constitutional requirement and that they control over 80 percent seats in the Sindh Provincial Assembly to opt for local elections. The smaller parties of Sindh that have traditionally performed poorly in the elections are making this into a major political issue in order to overcome their political isolation. The PPP and the MQM argue that these political parties are totally wrong to assume that the new local government ordinance is the beginning of division of the province of Sindh.
The new local government system accommodates the two major political parties by introducing one type of local government system in the major cities and somewhat different system in the rest of Sindh. Such a divergence is not unusual because local government system can vary within a province.
The above arguments have a lot of academic relevance but why the PPP has now become so conscious of its responsibility to the constitution. The local elections were due in early 2010 but no provincial government showed interest in the holding of the elections. This fitted well into Pakistan’s political experience, that is, political governments often avoid holding local elections and want to control local affairs from the provincial capitals and they prefer to work through the members of the provincial assemblies and the Parliament rather than the elected local councillors.
Technically, local elections can be held before the general elections because there are seven months to the expiry of the tenure of the parliament and the provincial assembly. However, the sudden decision to hold local elections looks like a partisan political move rather than their genuine commitment to democracy at the grass-roots level.
Further, local elections can be held in Sindh only. No other province is willing to hold these elections. The Punjab government has announced that it would hold local elections after the general election.
The PPP faces two-fold opposition in Sindh. Some of its political allies, i.e., the ANP and the Functional Muslim League, have rejected the local government ordinance and their ministers in the Sindh cabinet have tendered their resignations. Other political parties in Sindh and especially various Sindhi nationalist groups are also opposed to it and have decided to launch a province wide closure of business and transport on September 13. The leading mainstream political parties (the PMLN and the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) have rejected the new ordinance and the holding of local elections. In this way, the PPP has not only lost some of its allies, at least for the time being, but it has also provided a good opportunity to its political adversaries in Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan to work together to undermine the PPP’s political standing.
The PPP will have to face their criticism on this issue all over the country. The MQM’s interest is confined only to urban areas of Sindh. If the going became really tough for the PPP on this issue, the MQM is likely to step back. In case, the PPP retracts its decision on local bodies in Sindh, it will face the wrath of the MQM.
The PPP and the MQM are expected to perform better than any other political party in the local elections in Sindh. The control of local government and its resources will give a clear advantage to the PPP and the MQM in the elections at the provincial and federal levels.
The PPP’s former allies and political adversaries in Sindh feel that the PPP is on the decline and that they will be able to perform better in the provincial and federal elections. The Functional Muslim League, a PPP ally until the latest crisis, is convinced that it can win more seats at the provincial and federal levels because of the growing alienation from the PPP in Sindh. However, they think that if the PPP gains control of local government, it will manipulate the provincial and federal elections to sustain its domineering position.
The opposition views the PPP and the MQM decision to go for local elections as an attempt to stretch the tenure of the present governments and the assemblies to the maximum possible limit. This is being viewed as a delaying tactics for provincial and federal elections.
There was no need for the PPP to kick off a new crisis for itself at a time when it faces strong pressures from the Supreme Court and the military. The opposition gets a new issue to engage in political onslaught against the PPP.
Instead of indulging into another controversial venture the PPP needs to hold general elections towards the end of December or in January. There is no reason to delay national elections until after the expiry of the tenure of the National and Provincial Assembly in the third week of March.
The stretching of the tenure does not serve the political interests of the PPP because the performance of its governments at the provincial or federal levels is not expected to improve in the next seven months. There are no indications that the PPP can turn the tide so far as the economy, electric power generation and security of life and property are concerned. The PPP will alienate more people during September 2012-March 2013. Further, the Supreme Court has by now become a political player and it will continue to pressure the PPP and establish its overriding role in the political system.
The political leadership with fresh mandate will be able to cope with the efforts of the Supreme Court to stretch its domain of authority.
The PPP should forget about its ill-advised decision to hold local elections in Sindh and announce the holding of the national election. Any delay will adversely affect its prospects in the general elections.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.