The political consensus that enabled Tthe passing of the 18th Constitutional Amendment marked a critical democratic milestone for Pakistan. Through a process of dialogue, debate and compromise, Pakistan has strengthened its foundations as a federal, democratic and parliamentary state. Comprehensive implementation of the 18th Amendment is vital to strengthening participatory federalism and decentralization, which are in turn critical to achieving poverty reduction and sustainable human development.

Enhancing democratic governance standards at the local level, by strengthening and developing local government structures, and creating mechanisms to support participatory decision-making, is an essential part of this process. No political system is considered complete and democratic if it does not have a vibrant local government system.

In countries around the world, the absence of effective local governance arrangements exacerbates inequality, instability and underdevelopment, as well as social exclusion and lack of empowerment among youth, women and minority groups. Local government is fundamental to mitigating these grievances as it brings government closer to the people, and has the potential to increase the quality and coverage of services to citizens. It gives voice to local people, offering them opportunities to influence the decision-making processes that affect their lives. Experience has shown that a fully functioning local government system represents the sine qua non for inclusive development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Local government elections in Pakistan offer the county an opportunity to further consolidate the democratic gains that have been secured since the restoration of democratic government in 2008. All provinces have laid the groundwork for the evolution of effective local governance arrangements by enacting legal frameworks in their respective provinces for local government institutions. Balochistan has held elections for local bodies in December 2013 and the attention is now focused on the three remaining provinces.

At the time of writing of this editorial, the dates for elections in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remain uncertain, with some quarters proposing that the elections be postponed until after a national census has been conducted. In view of their importance and the Constitutional requirement, it is vital that local government elections be held in the remaining provinces as soon as possible, even if the circumstances aren't perfect, to lay the foundation for the stability and effectiveness of the democratic system in Pakistan.

Going forward, the local governance system must entrust suffcient political, administrative and financial authority and responsibility to the elected local government representatives. The local elections will represent a lost opportunity if the newly elected local bodies lack the resources, mandate and authority to deliver economic and social services to the grassroots communities. Equitable development and broad-based political participation are crucial to addressing the social tensions, human development defcits and disparities that prevent Pakistan from translating its peoples' aspirations into a sustainable reality.

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