Islamabad LG polls


And its share of ironies


At the time of writing, PTI seemed to have reversed its downslide and looked comfortable enough to secure the Islamabad LG poll. Party loyalists have already begun telling the press that Punjab, too, would have been the same had the government not ‘fiddled’ with voter constituencies, etc, but clearly there are stronger dynamics at play. For one thing, Islamabad, especially the urban areas where PTI did best, is more working class and largely free of clan and tribal politics that dominate Punjab, for example, at every level. That PML-N had a better outing in the rural areas supports this point of view.

For another, PML-N – fresh from a string of victories – perhaps overplayed its hand and triggered partial revolts within its ranks. Still, whatever the reason, PTI’s ascendance will expose certain fault-lines in this LG system, and the election might well prove to be the beginning of a very complicated process. It is still unclear, for example, what exactly should be expected of LG governments. Islamabad will now be run under a triangular arrangement. There is the ever present civil bureaucracy, there is the CDA, and now there is the LG structure. How complications regarding priorities, chain of fund-flow, etc, will be worked out is still pretty hazy. But there are still more ironies.

This was Islamabad’s first proper LG election. The last such exercise was held in ’79, under military rule, but it was limited to rural areas. But back then local governments had the power to generate revenue through taxation, among other things. Now, the Union Councils will depend on the government for funding. For a political elite that takes pride in ‘saving democracy’, surely it would have been more prudent to allow power to really devolve to the grass root. Our history suggests that LG systems under military dispensations tend to be of a more democratic nature than similar setups under democratic administrations. That means that the entire LG exercise, which the government was eventually forced into by the Supreme Court, will come full circle soon but the end result will hardly be in keeping with representative democratic governance principles. Nevertheless, with PTI at the LG level and PML-N in government, Islamabad will definitely become a more politically heated place all the way to the next general election.