The Supreme Court has told the Deputy Attorney General and the four Advocates General to ask their clients, the respective governments, whether they could hold local body elections along with those being held in the cantonments, on September 15. The court did so on Wednesday, as a three-member bench, headed by the Chief Justice, heard the Balochistan law and order case. It had earlier noted, as it did again on Tuesday, that the law and order situation in the province could not be controlled unless local body elections were held. Once the question of local body elections in Balochistan was raised, that of why they were not being held in the remaining provinces was inevitable. The Supreme Court observed that they were a constitutional requirement, and this should have been enough to persuade the governments to hold the elections. The governments elected in May should notice that the apex court has noted, evidently not with approval, that they have not done anything in this regard. The reluctance of the governments would be taking them towards a needless confrontation with the Supreme Court.
The advantages of local body elections are plentiful, but they have generally been seen as rival power centres to the legislatures, which indicates why the PPP has never held a local body election, and why military regimes have all held them. The tinkerings of the military have been behind the recent delay, for provinces have been claiming that they wanted to resolve the conflict between the Musharraf-era law, which provided for unified councils, and the Zia-era law, which maintained the rural-urban divide. Sindh saw an intense struggle over this between the PPP and the MQM, straining their coalition to breaking point. Even though Sindh has got a new local bodies law, elections have not been held under it.
Mian Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister did conduct local body polls in 1991, but did not do so in his second tenure. His government should not object to the holding of these polls, and nor should any of the provincial governments. The PTI government in KPK has committed to holding these polls; again, the only problem appears to be Sindh, where the two major political parties, the PPP and the MQM, are at daggers drawn about how local bodies should be constituted. However, the local body polls have been put off long enough for this to be seen by the Supreme Court as contributing to the situation in Balochistan. All provinces must hold elections before they suffer a similar fate.