Punjab is a good case study for analysts that cheered the LG polls – despite their hollow and non-representative nature – simply because it was, apparently, an exercise in grass-root democracy, which must always be welcomed. It is another story altogether, of course, that politicians fought against the poll tooth and nail, and had to be driven to it by the Supreme Court. Also, that local bodies are literally powerless – as a result of an exercise meant to bolster grass-root democracy – hardly seems to matter anymore.
But the Punjab LG (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 certainly takes the cake and has rightly been challenged before the Lahore High Court (LHC) by PTI and PML-Q. As expected, opposition parties have issue with the two amendments to the ordinance – whereby election of chairman and vice chairman of DCs and municipal committee as well as mayor and deputy mayor of metropolitan and municipal corporation were changed from ‘secret ballot’ to ‘open division’ (meaning show of hands), and election of reserved seats was substituted with nomination on basis of proportional representation system of political parties.
The amendments raise two important questions, besides betraying the government’s intentions and ambitions. By eliminating the secret ballot, for example, the government only strengthens opposition apprehensions regarding voter intimidation; hence the charge that it wants to reward and punish people voting the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way, etc. Also, why issue amendments after the local government election schedule? Now that the results have favoured the ruling party, it seems obsessed with micro-managing the local body setup as well, calling the entire exercise into question. But with popular frustration mounting, the government might be forced to re-evaluate some of its decisions. It does itself no favours, at the end of the day, by exercises such as interfering in the local government process. By resisting proper devolution of representative government to the grass-root, it is only damaging its own reputation in the long term.