ISLAMABAD, December 2, 2009: People across Pakistan will reinforce their demand for immediate local government elections at Citizens Assemblies being organized by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in more than 35 districts around the country between December 3 and 20, 2009.
Amid continued government silence over the shape and future of the local governments that are set to lose constitutional protection on December 31, 2009, FAFEN Citizens Assemblies are meant to bring to the fore popular demand for continuation of the local governments and their immediate elections. The Citizens Assemblies will be attended by representatives of civil society organizations, bar associations, trade unions and media, elected representatives of Union, Tehsil and District Governments, and other citizens of Pakistan.
While reaffirming their support and demand for immediate local government elections, the Citizens Assemblies will also remind political parties represented in Parliament of their election promise of improvements in the existing local government system. Not a single political party talked about scrapping the local government system in its election manifesto for the 2008 General Elections.
The Citizens Assemblies will be supplemented by 5,400 Public Service Announcements on FM radio channels around the country in more than eight regional languages, calling for immediate elections to local governments. FAFEN’s Citizens Assemblies initiative follows a study by the network in 34 districts in August 2009, which established that a majority of citizens are in favor of the existing local government system and oppose efforts by the political parties to end the system.
As part of this study, FAFEN conducted a total of 760 interviews with elected representatives, including District and Tehsil Nazims and Naib Nazims as well as 298 interviews with government officials, including 30 District Coordination Officers (DCOs), 134 Teshil Municipal Officers and 134 Union Secretaries. As many as 626 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were conducted with 4,000 District, Tehsil and Union Councilors, including 164 FGDs with women and workers’ representatives at the three tiers of local government.
Some key findings of the study included:
- An overwhelming majority of FAFEN survey respondents (79%) oppose the revival of the Local Bodies System that was introduced in 1979.
- A considerable two-thirds majority of all respondents (69%) favor direct elections to the offices of District and Tehsil Nazims and Naib Nazims, while only 28% of respondents support the current indirect system of elections for these positions.
- Among elected representatives, almost three-fourths (72%) oppose the restoration of magisterial powers for DCOs, as do 60% of citizens and members of civil society. Only 39% of civil servants/bureaucrats reject the idea of restoration of judicial powers in executive hands.
- Support for party-based local government elections comes from all three categories of respondents, but opinions are more evenly divided on this issue than on others, with 54% supporting party-based local government elections and 42% opposing this reform.
- Almost three-fourths of FAFEN survey respondents (73%) want to maintain or increase reserved local government seats for women, peasants, and workers.
The districts, where Citizens Assemblies are being held include Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rahimyar Khan, Nankana Sahib, Lodhran, Jhang, Khushab, Rajanpur, all four districts of Karachi, Hyderabad, Tando Allahyar, Ghotki, Larkana, Khairpur, Dadu, Therparker, Malir, Peshawar, Kohat, Mardan, Charsadda, Haripur, Mansehra, Swabi, Quetta, Gawadar, Kech, Pishin, Khuzdar and Nasirabad.
About FAFEN: FAFEN is a network of 30 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability. For more information please visit www.fafen.org
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