The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday postponed the local government elections scheduled to be held on December 31 in Islamabad.
The PML-N in its application, submitted to IHC, pleaded with the court to delay LG polls in the federal capital on the pretext of an increase in the number of union councils
At the outset of the hearing, former attorney general Ashtar Ausaf, who is representing the government in the case, informed the bench that the decision to increase the union councils in the federal capital was based on an increase in population.
At this, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja asked whether the census report had been published.
Suggesting the electoral body to look into the rise in Islamabad’s population, Ausaf maintained that the census bureau had notified the population growth.
“The Islamabad High Court also recognised the increase in population but authorised the Election Commission to take the final decision after listening to the government’s point of view,” Ausaf told the bench.
“In the past, even after the schedule was released, elections were postponed. The Election Commission has to decide according to the constitution and the law,” said Ausaf, adding that the ECP cannot deprive citizens of their fundamental rights.
The lawyer also told the bench that the federal government has passed a legislation on the increase of union councils, adding that ECP must redistribute constituencies in Islamabad.
Meanwhile, a member of the ECP wondered why there was a sudden increase in the population in six months.
The lawyer informed that the government reviewed NADRA’s data.
However, CEC Raja said that the delimitation of constituencies was done for Islamabad twice. He also gave the example of Punjab where the exercise was done twice and is now being done for the third time.
“Why did the government not realise at the right time to increase the UCs,” asked CEC Raja. He added that UCs were increased once the election schedule was issued, saying that the government had put ECP in a difficult situation.
“If a mistake is made then the commission should provide assistance,” responded Ausaf. However, CEC Raja reminded the counsel that a mistake is made once not again and again.
“In Article 148 of the Constitution, it is written that elections are to be conducted according to the local law. Now, if that law is changed, then what should be done? There should be such a legislation that local government elections are held on time,” remarked CEC. He added that ECP also faced resistance in provinces over local government elections.
Meanwhile, Justice (retd) Ikramullah Khan, a member of the bench, remarked that general elections are also supposed to be held, and wondered what would happen to the future of local body elections.
On the other hand, CEC Raja said that ECP fears that the government may change the UCs again, adding that the government has to stop this at some point.
On this, Ausaf assured the ECP bench that there will be no changes in the law and wrapped up his arguments.
BABAR AWAN: Meanwhile, PTI’s lawyer Babar Awan told the bench that ECP has already issued the schedule and elections are supposed to be held on December 31, reminding that the law has been changed twice.
Awan said that the ECP was being misled by the government.
“The president has not yet approved the bill,” said Awan, adding that the president may send back the bill to parliament within 10 days with objections while backing the ECP’s views on the local body elections.
The PTI counsel also said that if the president signs the bill then the law can be challenged in court, adding that under Article 264 even if a law is made then elections are to be held under the previous law.
The PTI counsel, while wrapping up his arguments, urged the bench to let the polls happen on December 31.
JAMAAT-E-ISLAMI: Counsel Hassan Javed reminded the bench that the people of Islamabad have been deprived of representation for two years.
He told the bench that his party’s stance was that it was standing with the ECP. He added that IHC in its order did not challenge ECP’s order.
“The high court did not declare the authority, opinion or decision of the Election Commission as wrong. It only said that these parties were not heard, take a decision after listening to them, “said JI’s lawyer.
After listening to all the parties, CEC Raja, while wrapping up the argument, remarked that the voter list has no link with the election schedule. He also asked Ashtar Ausaf whether the president had ratified the bill related to the local bodies.
While another member added that they had always heard that once the president signs a bill then it is turned into law.
However, Ausaf said that the law is also one which is made by the parliament.
The bench after hearing all the arguments reserved its verdict in the case.
ELECTION IN SINDH: The Sindh government has once again sought delay in the local government elections in Karachi and Hyderabad this time citing a pending work related to a Supreme Court judgement.
In a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the provincial government’s Local Government Department said that work is pending related to the implementation of the Supreme Court’s judgment on due enforcement of Article 140-A of the Constitution, amendments to the local government act, and rectification of the constituencies for the municipal polls.
It mentioned that the MQM-Pakistan had also written a letter for rectifying the constituencies, while a petition in this regard had been filed in court.
The government also shared the opinion of the Sindh advocate general who is of the view that the delimitation of the constituencies would likely be changed.
The local government elections are scheduled to be held in Karachi and Hyderabad on January 15. The elections have been postponed several times mainly due to floods and heavy rains in the province.
The ECP scheduled the local government polls in Sindh in two phases.
In the first phase held on June 25, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) took a clear lead in the 14 districts.
The 14 districts of Sindh that went to polls included Larkana, Kambar-Shahdadkot, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Sukkur, Ghotki, Khairpur, Naushehro Feroze, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, and Tharparkar.
Elections in the rest of the districts of Sindh, including Karachi division, were scheduled to be held on July 24.
However, due to the heavy rainfall and flooding the polls have been delayed since.
In November, the Sindh High Court (SHC) censured the ECP for sitting on the local bodies elections in Karachi, warning them against further delay and ordered it to announce a date for the polls.
The same month, a five-member bench of the ECP, announced that local government elections would take place on January 15, 2023, in Karachi and Hyderabad.