Local democracy.

THE Sindh government recently informed the ECP of its inability to hold local elections soon, citing the shortage of police personnel as the key reason. In the same vein, amendments to the Sindh Local Government Act were deliberated in the provincial cabinet.

The amendments propose that the Karachi mayor become the chair of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, and lead the governing body of the Karachi Development Authority. But these would be cosmetic reforms. The provincial administration would still retain control of land allotment and development matters, housing, disaster management, urban transportation, law and order, building and zoning control, urban and regional planning, heritage, etc. No elected local tier will have oversight in these matters.

The trust deficit between local political entities and the provincial administration, their competition for the control of development and management initiatives, and the absence of a meaningful dialogue explain this situation.

With the exception of the Jamaat-i-Islami, no political party is actively demanding local elections or calling for resource allocations for local tiers or better local governance. Electoral success may be a means for the JI to gain ground in other government tiers. But despite its efforts, it has not succeeded in making Karachi's governance a rallying point for the masses.

The MQM, which once styled itself as the sole arbiter of local government (LG), is reeling from internal crises. The PTI, with its electoral strength in Karachi, has failed to use its popularity to come up with an agenda for reform. Ironically, Sindh's ruling party may be set to capture the office of mayor with its low-value but high-visibility ventures such as a few public buses and road repair works.

Grassroots democracy requires more than cosmetic reforms.

Despite its significance for local governance, no political party has successfully evolved a charter of local democracy which could appeal to all. In its heyday, the MQM was tagged as the harbinger of LGs but its focus remained on the urban areas. Interestingly, military dictatorships helped instal elected LGs in the country, presumably to project their 'legitimacy'. In other words, such LGs became a facade for 'democracy' and enabled despotic regimes to establish basic engagement with the masses.

Elected federal and provincial governments saw the LG tier as a competitor, not a collaborating arm...

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