Local government elections were underway in Balochistan on Sunday this week and reports suggest that independent candidates have surpassed expectations by taking the lead in 32 districts of the province. By late night on Sunday, independent candidates had won more than 1,000 seats, followed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) winning around 100 seats and the ruling Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) securing 71 seats.

Unfortunately, the exercise was marred by incidents of violence being reported in various parts of the province as one person was killed and over three dozen others were injured in clashes between rival parties. This was already a fear however, given the overall situation in recent times, and experts on the ground suggest that overall, the elections were held smoothly and the people of Balochistan participated in large numbers.

The exercise of voting itself holds a lot of meaning in the context of Balochistan, given how it has been a victim of chaos and instability for a myriad of reasons. Therefore, to partake in this exercise in such numbers, despite the threat of violence, sends a clear message of rejection to anti-state elements. It is important to remember that local body elections are being held in Balochistan after almost 10 years, yet still the voter turnout was estimated at 60 percent, the highest since the 1988 election. What is even more encouraging is that so many women have participated in the general elections instead of the reserved seats. Additionally, the turnout of women voters is also being reported to have been quite significant.

The credit for making these elections a success goes to the brave people of Balochistan, the administration and security forces who put their lives on the line. Now, it is the turn of the local government to respect the mandate of the people and address the longstanding list of grievances that have been neglected over the years due to constant political shuffling and instability.

Being the country’s poorest province, Balochistan faces a severe shortage of food and water. People are starving as crop cultivation has almost become impossible due to dry weather, land barrenness and water scarcity. Children are most affected by the situation and their lives are at risk because of hunger and malnutrition. Water shortage has left thousands jobless across the province due to the adverse impact of climate change on the agricultural and livestock sectors. These are serious issues affecting the day-to-day survival of the people of Balochistan who have been deprived of basic necessities and infrastructure for far too long. Both the centre and local government will have to roll up their sleeves and get to work so that the confidence of the people is reinforced in the electoral system and the state.