The Islamabad High Court has stayed the suspension of the first-ever elected mayor of Islamabad, Sheikh Anser Aziz, for a period of 90 days by the federal government. No prizes for guessing right the name of the party he belongs to: the PML-(N). According to details, the Local Government Commission dominated by PTI members and headed by its MNA, Ali Nawaz Awan, who is also a special assistant to the Prime Minister on the affairs of Capital Development Authority, had recommended the suspension to the government subsequent to a meeting of the Commission on May 14, the day the two opposition members, PML-N's Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed and PPP's Raja Pervez Ashraf were not present. The meeting decided – allegedly out of agenda – to ask the government to suspend the mayor so that an inquiry about a corruption reference pertaining to the award of a contract for inter-city bus terminals could be initiated. The federal cabinet gave its go-ahead, which was hurriedly followed up by the interior ministry with the issuance of a notification on May 17, a public holiday. The entire action was completed within a matter of just three days, prompting the PML-N to term it a “coup d'état".

The Commission chief has defended the move, saying the Local Government Act introduced by the PML-N government clearly says the mayor could be suspended for 90 days when a probe is instituted against him. The initiation of a probe, however, may not always emanate from good intentions. The mayor seemed to have a point when he claimed that in almost all its meetings, the Commission pursued a one-point agenda to “malign me", recalling that a few months ago it had initiated a similar corruption case, in which the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had granted him a stay. Declaring the latest action as politically-motivated, he said he would again challenge it in IHC and he did successfully. This does not look good for the PTI since it came to power promising to rid public institutions of political influence. All the same, the much touted police reforms in Punjab have been forgotten. So has been the case with empowering local governments. In May of last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced, amid great fanfare, a new Punjab Local Government law and an amended Khyber Pakhtunkhwa LG law, describing them a “revolutionary step" toward devolution of power. Yet, the existing LG system in Punjab, dominated by PML-N was dismissed and replaced by government-appointed administrators till fresh elections, to be held next May, i.e., this month. So far there is no sign of new LG elections.

The action against the mayor of Islamabad, therefore, is not surprising. But it shows the PTI has little respect for the electoral mandate of opposition leaders. The party has also not proved to be any different from its predecessors in waging vendettas against political rivals. Yesterday keeps coming around; it is not the promised better tomorrow, though.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020