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Importance of LB elections in NWFP – August 2005

Importance of LB elections in NWFP

          After the announcement of elections by the Government of Pakistan, candidates and parties have begun the process of preparing for the forthcoming elections. LBs occupy a central pillar in the President’s reform agenda for the nation. It would not be wrong to say that the time and effort spent on this one area is greater, than the aggregate time spent on all the other measures by the Musharraf administration.

          LB reform has brought fundamental change in the structure of the state at the people level; the delivery of social services to the population including education, health and in seven other categories. The Nazim and the District Police Commission have replaced the pivotal role of the Deputy Commissioner, in the law and order area. All executive magisterial powers have shifted to the judiciary. Under the garb of separation of power; they are now responsible for the law but not the order, for which the law was enacted in the first place.

          The greatest threat to the LB reform lies in its non-constitutional antecedents; local government is not a federal subject under the scheme of things in Article 70 (4) of the constitution; it flies against the grain of provincial rights. In order to protect the reform edifice and the change of the power structure at the district level another anomaly had to be committed. The amendment of the Police Act and its replacement by the Police Commission concept; it again is a provincial subject but reformed by the federal government.

          It is true that the logic of the LB reforms becomes contradiction free, once the structure of the provincial government is totally removed; in its presence, the LB will either face confrontation or survive as its adjunct.

          The report card on the performance of LG is a questionable one; the delivery of services has deteriorated; road, building, and water supply infrastructure has decayed. Many townships have become filthier; control of lower echelon functionaries has but disappeared. Planning and monitoring capacity is minimal; financial controls are poor and hemorrhage of funds acute; capture of works and CCBs by contractors is visible.

          Connection between district programs and the other programs like the MPA, MNA, Senators programs is non existent. One tragic unintended consequence of the reforms has been the loss and in some cases the manipulated change, of the record of rights in land; it has created a simmering crisis in the rural areas. In short, the reforms have created turbulence and minus some sunny exceptions, the aggregate picture is cloudy.

          What is extremely important is the impact of the LB elections in NWFP. If the elections are held, they will change the landscape of NWFP for a long time to come and the effect here will be different from the rest of the country.

          In NWFP, a more fundamental transformation is underway. In the absence of the main stream political parties like the PPP, PML (N), and the emaciated ANP, the field is open for the religious MMA.

          Any fair assessment of the MMA government’s performance in NWFP, will give them high marks for the able projection of provincial rights. Both the Chief Minister and the Finance Minister have performed more ably than many in the past. Their handling of the NFC and the Net Profit issue has been solid. Secondly, the MMA government is remarkably free from scheming and conspiracies of the past. Its members may be of humble background but their attitude is relatively reflective and strife free. However, their use of the state machinery in furtherance of political aims is keener than any government of the past.

          The MMA’s mass appeal in the rural areas lies in combining theology with Pakhtun traditions. On every occasion of grief or happiness there is sure to be an MMA representative present. This is a vote winning gesture, which has no equivalent. It is a remarkable synthesis between populism and religion based politics. The MMA forms a community with the people.

          Although the LB elections are supposed to be party-less, yet the MMA constituent parties have formed election groups. With a strong support base already built on the pillars of jobs, distribution of zakat, use of government influence and an easy access to the people the MMA supported will be formidable. The price hike and the increase in the cost of living will attract the negative vote to the MMA. My projection is that they are going to make heavy gains in the LB elections, if held.

          The control over government and local bodies leading to the 2007 general elections will place the MMA into an impregnable position. Unless its government is dissolved before that and a care taker government delivers a desired result, through manipulation, the MMA will have a big majority. In such a situation one foresees a rightist turn in NWFP politics and its political transformation.

          What would be the consequences internationally of such a future post 2007? A lot depends on what the world is like at that time. If the process is not terminated in an untimely manner, then we will have a right wing government combining populism with religion. Such a combination could lead to periodic dangerous out bursts of madness.

          However, if it is the genuine will of the people, then the world ought to respect it as long as it did not disturb the system. If the international community can speak with the right wing Likkud in Israel, dealing with the MMA should not be such an issue. However, the impact on life in NWFP will be more visible. Its liberal urban characteristics will be placed into a strait jacket. That is where the rub will lie.

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