Presidential order on LG system: Status quo until talks with MQM complete

In what appears to be an attempt to avoid another round of intra-coalition acrimony, President Asif Ali Zardari has asked the leadership of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party in Sindh not to make any decisions on the local government system in the province without getting the consent of the party’s coalition partners.

In particular, the president has asked the PPP’s provincial leadership not to present any bill in the Sindh Assembly before the consultation process within the coalition had been completed. The president’s directive appeared to be aimed at retaining the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s support for the ruling coalition.

The MQM had left the government earlier this year on account of its differences with the PPP over the system of government to be adopted at the local level in Sindh. The MQM favours a system run by elected officials whereas the PPP favours one dominated by federally-appointed civil servants. The rift between the PPP and the MQM had led to a sharpening of tensions in Sindh, particularly in Karachi, which saw at least 400 people killed in a summer of violence. Since then, however, the two parties have reconciled. The MQM went so far as to hold a rally in its political stronghold of Karachi in order to protest the strong language used by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif (of the PPP’s rival Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz) against the president.

President Zardari appears keen to return the favour. Sources said that the president went so far as to say that the actual text of any bill to be presented in must be cleared with the coalition partners before being presented in the assembly.

However, the president’s request may be difficult to accommodate. Under the previous compromise between the two parties, administrators had been appointed in districts across Sindh in preparation for local elections under the 2001 system (favoured by MQM). However, that ordinance had only been issued for 90 days, which lapsed on November 4, with the result that nobody seems to know what system of government Sindh is following.

Sindh government is keen to settle the issue as soon as possible after Eid holidays and may end up temporarily reinstating the 1979 system (favoured by the PPP) until a compromise with the MQM is reached. The MQM, however, has said in no uncertain terms that the 1979 system is not acceptable to it, even for an interim period.

As a result of the MQM’s ultimatum, and the president’s intervention, the PPP in Sindh has not yet issued any orders on the system of local government. The president has asked the Sindh government to continue with the half-way house interim administrators system until an agreement is reached.

Sources said that the talks between the MQM and the PPP – the fourth such round of negotiations – will begin on November 11 (Friday), after Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah returns from Hajj.

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