DAWN - the Internet Edition

16 August 2000 Wednesday 15 Jamadi-ul-Awwal 1421

Most political parties reject devolution plan

By Our Staff Reporter

LAHORE, Aug 15: A majority of political parties have rejected the devolution plan announced by Chief Executive Gen Pervez Musharraf on Aug 14, terming it unworkable. However, some of them admit that the new system is better than the one which had been given by the National Reconstruction Bureau.

Over three dozen parties which took part in the Aug 6 all-party conference had rejected the NRB plan. Commenting on the new system, suspended Punjab Assembly speaker Pervaiz Elahi said it was better than the one drafted by the NRB and was "practicable." He advised his party, the PML, that it should take part in the local elections.

Pervaiz Elahi, also a former local government minister, had earlier rejected the NRB's proposals as full of contradictions and unworkable.

He said a number of amendments proposed by the PML had been incorporated in the new system.

In his opinion the decision to give the head of the district government more powers would help improve the administration.

Also, he pointed out, the change in the mode of his election would require less expenditure and help end blackmailing of the union council members.

The PML leader said that under the new system the head of the district government would be able to take independent decisions.

HAMID NASIR CHATTHA: Pakistan Awami Ittehad Secretary General Hamid Nasir Chattha said apparently the system of indirect elections proposed for the head of the district council would not work.

Such a system had failed during the Ayub era and would not work either now, he added.

He said a final decision on the subject would be taken by the GDA, which is due to meet in Islamabad on Aug 23.

ABID HASAN MINTO: National Workers Party (NWP) president Abid Hasan Minto said the military regime's devolution plan was on more than one counts reactionary and against democratic concepts. Besides, being a confused scheme, it provided for election at the local level on non-party basis. It also provided for separate electorate for religious minorities.

A person who is genuinely interested in the political development of a decadent society and is in search of genuine democracy cannot support these notions, he said, adding building a society on democratic foundations is not possible by keeping politics out of grassroots level.

That would further depoliticize the people and shall strengthen the influence of biradaris and tribes and promote the already entrenched feudal, economic and social mafias in society.

The fact that mainstream political parties and their leadership in particular had proved anti-people and anti-democratic did not call for elimination of politics from elections, he said.

On the contrary, the need was to strengthen the representative system and to encourage people at grassroots to provide political leadership.

Minto said separate electorate was introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq not for providing representation to minorities but to divide the people along religious lines. Ever since religious conflicts and sectarian terrorism had played havoc with society.

He said neither the mainstream Church leadership nor the intelligentsia of the religious minorities and their principal political parties had supported separate electorates. They wanted to play a role in the mainstream politics as members of a common Pakistani nation.

"If the chief executive feels that they must have secure seats, the answer is not separate electorate but reservation of seats in the manner in which other disadvantaged sections of society such as women and working classes have been allowed in the very scheme."

The NWP leader welcomed the resignation of federal minister Derick Cyprian from the cabinet. "His resignation does not only represent the reaction of the minorities but of all democratic people."

KHALID KHARAL: PPP leader Khalid Kharal said the devolution at grassroots level was fraught with lacunas and the holding of the union council elections on non-party basis would promote biradarism in the country.

He said the military regime's devolution plan resembled the basic democracies scheme given by president Ayub Khan. "It is old wine in new bottles and may be used by the regime as electoral college for provincial assembly elections in future," he said.

He said the plan was unworkable and confused. It was not clear from where the proposed union, tehsil and district councils would draw their powers. He said the demolition of the prevalent local government system would prove dangerous for the country and make difficult the redressal of public problems and grievances.

Kharal said every parliament was sovereign in making and striking a piece of legislation and the chief executive's claim that it would be impossible for future governments to reverse it was not logical.

He said there was nothing positive about the new scheme which required a high level of free media and education on the part of the electorate. He said the provinces would lose whatever powers they had if the new scheme was implemented.

FAROOQ LEGHARI: Millat Party president Farooq Leghari said he would give his comments after a meeting of his party leaders.He said he could not give off-the-cuff comments on the plan, saying the government had removed only a few lacunas from its original plan as pointed out by his party in its detailed critique of the NBR some time ago.

TAHIRUL QADRI: Pakistan Awami Tehrik chief Tahirul Qadri hailed the chief executive for giving what he called a simple and workable devolution scheme. He said the amended district government plan had accommodated several proposals and papers sent to the government by the PAT to improve the earlier, complicated version of the scheme.

He said the PAT wanted the elections to be held on party basis, hoping that the government might allow political parties to take part in the union council polls at some stage in future.

However, he said, the PAT would participate in the polls whenever they were held even if the Grand Democratic Alliance decided to boycott them.

He agreed that the new scheme had created confusion about the provincial autonomy but was hopeful that the regime would come out with a three-tier devolution of power programme specifying the authority and power of the centre, the provinces and the districts to remove this ambiguity.

He said the regime should rename district councils as district assemblies and their nazims and naib nazims as chairmen and vice-chairmen or mayors and deputy mayors, respectively. He said the new nomenclature could be a conspiracy on the part of the bureaucracy to degrade these offices.

The PAT chief, however, said the whole plan would fail if the government failed to carry out accountability of corrupt politicians before December next. He said the government must immediately set up district accountability courts to cleanse society of the corrupt members of the local bodies so that a new and clean leadership could emerge.

If the government did not carry accountability, it would not be possible for honest people to get elected because of the influence enjoyed by the existing lot of politicians over voters, he added.

EHSAN WYNE: Awami National Party senior vice-president Ehsan Wyne said that in spite of introducing amendments in the original plan the government had failed to bring improvements in the system.

The government should have held party-based national and provincial assemblies' elections before announcing the devolution plan, he added.

He said the present plan was not workable as it did not recognize provincial autonomy. He feared that the provinces would have post office's role in the proposed set-up as they would have a powerful centre above and strong district governments at the lower levels.

The proposed system would not only be against the provincial autonomy but also against the national solidarity, he said.

The ANP leader said that it was for the first time in the history of the country that all the political parties of the Punjab had opposed a system on the basis of provincial autonomy.

He said the proposed system seemed to be an endeavour on the part of the military regime to revive the one-unit arrangement which had cost so dearly to the country in the past.

He also criticized the government for its decision to continue with the separate electorate system. He termed the decision an endeavour to appease the religious and fundamental lobby. He said the chief executive should have announced restoration of the joint electorate system as it would have created patriotic feelings among the minorities.

Wyne said that the CE might use new LB system to get himself elected as president of the country by declaration members of the union councils as his electoral college. He said the same route was adopted by Ayub Khan to prolong his rule.

K.M. AZHAR: JUP (Noorani) secretary general K. M. Azhar said there a few improvements in the system as compared with the original plan but it still had a number of drawbacks.

He said it would be impossible for the government to provide fruit of self-government to the common man in the presence of tribal system in Balochistan and the NWFP and feudal set-up in Sindh and southern Punjab.

He said in the absence of political parties, the local body elections would promote personality cult. He said the condition of 50 per cent votes would also be a means of producing powerful figures.

He said these tendencies could easily be neutralized by holding party-based elections on the basis of proportionate representation.

Azhar said the system was also deficient in the sense as it did not define a relationship between the head of the new system with MNAs and MPAs. He said in the absence of any clear-cut definition there was a danger of confrontation on the issues of development.

He suggested that the government should constitute an upper house comprising MNAs and MPAs of the area to guide the district nazim. He said under this arrangement the MNAs and MPAs would feel as a part of the system.

The JUP leaders said the government should also review its decision to reduce the powers of the deputy commissioner as it would require amendment in a large number of laws in which he has role.

He said the government should have consulted the political leadership before giving final shape to the new system for making it more practicable.

He lauded the government decision to reduce the women seats from 50 per cent to 33 per cent.

Replying to a question,

he said the JUP would take part in the LB elections even if they were held under the new system.

RIAZ DURRANI: JUI (Fazlur Rehman) leader Riaz Durrani also criticized the district government system terming it a repeat of Ayub Khan's BD system.

He said the chief executive had sought to introduce the BD system after bringing minor changes of cosmetic nature. He said it was a joke with the nation as it was being subjected to a system which was tried nowhere in the world.

ASHRAF WAHLA: Pakistan Bar Council member Chaudhry Ashraf Wahla said the new system was a sort of a test and there was no harming in trying a new system.

He said the prevalent system had failed and it was proved by the fact that since independence no government had completed its term.

KULSOOM NAWAZ: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz said the new system was very confusing and incomprehensible.

She said all military governments had made Pakistan a laboratory for different systems but their experiments had always failed. In her assessment, even the new system would not work.

However, she said, it was the party to decide whether or not to contest elections under the new system.

She said PML president Nawaz Sharif and other leaders would jointly decide the matter.

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