Early polls should be held to give control to the locals
As the five-year term of the 11 municipal councils ended, the government dissolved them on Thursday and appointed an administrator to run the affairs of each. The government invoked various provisions of the Goa Municipality Act, 1968 to dissolve the municipal councils of Mapusa, Pernem, Bicholim, Valpoi, Margao, Cuncolim, Mormugao, Quepem, Curchorem, Canacona and Sanguem. The elections to the councils that were due in October had to be postponed in view of the coronavirus pandemic. This is for the first time in several decades that the government could not hold elections to the urban local bodies before the expiry of their term. Three other urban local bodies, including the Corporation of the City of Panaji and Ponda and Sanquelim municipal councils, have a little under six months and over two years respectively to go before the elections to them are due. It would have been better if polls to all urban local bodies in the state were held simultaneously.
Unlike in several states, polls for local urban bodies in Goa are not held on party lines. Though the issue of holding elections on party lines in the state has been debated by political parties and political pundits for years, a decision to this effect has proven to be elusive for reasons of a divided opinion. As elections to the local bodies in the state are held about a year and half or just before the Assembly elections, they give an opportunity to the political parties to get a sense of popular mood. It has been a tradition among the leaders of the political parties in the state to set up their candidates without formal party labels to test the electoral waters for themselves. It has been seen that the politicians especially in the ruling camp win over those who defeated their own candidates in the local elections so as to make up for loss of strength and maintain their electoral support in the area. Many candidates, who defeat high-profile candidates propped up by politicians, change their loyalties to “reap the fruit of development” in their wards.
As Goa is a small state, it would be more useful if elections to all the local bodies, both urban and rural, are held simultaneously, though at different dates. It is also necessary that the government assures through legislation that those heading the local bodies have a fixed term in office. The frequent changes in the councils and the panchayats affect the development in their jurisdiction and lead to shifting of priorities. If politicians can appropriate the glory of having their party men to lead the local bodies, they should not shy away from opting for elections on party lines. Though local bodies in the state are apolitical, it is sad to note that development of the wards represented by those owing allegiance to the parties that are opposed to the ruling dispensation in the state, local legislators and their supporters are neglected.
As every party in power in the state has often manipulated to control as many local bodies as they could, either by direct election or by influencing the party switch of winning candidates, it would be better if elections to these bodies are held on party lines. Given the shortage of time, it may not be possible to hold the elections to urban local bodies on party lines this time, but the government should set the process in motion so that polls are held on party lines in the future. The government has done well to appoint a new state election commissioner following the resignation of the incumbent. The new SEC should ensure that the elections to the municipal councils are held smoothly at the earliest so that people in the urban areas have their elected representatives in office to articulate their grievances. The state government should consider holding the elections to the CCP, which are less than six months away together with the other civic bodies even if it means curtailing the tenure of the present council. The priority for the government should be to hand over the affairs to the newly elected local bodies at the earliest for focused development.