Despite orders from Islamabad High Court (IHC), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) remained “missing” from polling stations across the capital as residents came out to vote, the PTI claimed on Saturday.
A day earlier, after a whirlwind of court proceedings, the IHC had instructed the ECP to hold Islamabad local government elections today (Dec 31).
The verdict, which was pronounced by IHC Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir on petitions filed by PTI and Jamaat-i-Islami, quashed the electoral body’s notification regarding the postponement of the polls.
In response to the development, an ECP official had told Dawn that it was “practically impossible” to hold an electoral exercise, even within Islamabad alone, on such short notice. Separately, the federal government had decided to file an intra-court appeal against the verdict.
On Saturday morning, Dawn learnt that the election commission was in the process of filing the petition.
Meanwhile, the PTI complained that voters had gathered outside polling stations in the city but the election staff was missing.
Party Chairman Imran Khan, in a tweet, said that by not implementing the IHC orders, the ECP had proven that it was a “B team of the imported government and its backers”.
“PDM, fearful of the people, is running away from all elections. The right to vote is a fundamental democratic norm and PTI stands committed to it,” he said.
Separately, in a video message earlier today, PTI General Secretary Asad Umar said his party’s teams were present outside polling stations since morning but no one from the electoral body showed up.
“This imported government is scared of people […] they run away whenever elections are held […] they make excuses,” he claimed, demanding why the ECP’s preparations were not complete.
“We want the court to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the election commission and throw them out,” Umar added.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry also urged the IHC to take action against the ECP.
“This government, along with its puppet election commission, is making a joke of the nation and the Constitution,” he tweeted.
GOVT’S MOVE: Meanwhile, PML-N leader Tariq Fazal Chaudhry has said that the federal government’s legal team arrived at the IHC earlier today and filed an intra-court appeal against yesterday’s verdict.
Talking to reporters in Islamabad, he said that the government respected court orders but it was not possible to hold local government elections in a day.
“We will follow whatever the next ruling of the court turns out to be,” Chaudhry added.
About the “impracticality” of holding the polls, the PML-N leader explained that more than 20,000 people had to be mobilised for the exercise but all of them had gone on vacation.
Moreover, he said delimitations had to be carried out from the scratch after the increase in the number of union councils in Islamabad, which according to him would take nearly three to four months.
THE ORDER: The elections were earlier scheduled to be held on Dec 31. However, the federal government, earlier this month, increased the number of union councils from 101 to 125 in the capital, effectively putting off the elections.
Following the decision, the ECP postponed the polls as they couldn’t have been held without fresh delimitations.
On Friday, the IHC not only quashed the federal government’s decision but also the subsequent ECP notification to postpone the polls. Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir also directed the federal government to facilitate the ECP in holding the polls.
In a detailed verdict issued today, the court said: “The Federal Government was aware of the schedule issued for the conduct of local bodies elections issued by the ECP.
“However, at fag end, issued the notification dated 19.12.2022 based on unconfirmed statistics / information provided by the Administrator MCI, in haste without realizing that elections are going to be held after twelve days.”
It pointed out that the federal government’s conduct over the matter was in conflict with the law, adding that the matter of holding elections lay with the ECP as per the Constitution.
“The Courts are under obligation to enforce the constitutional safeguards and preserve and protect the institutional imperatives of the ECP unless there is a case involving illegality or injury to the public interest. If the Provincial Government or the Federal Government overstepped its legislative or executive authority to make the local government powerless, such exercise would fall foul of Article 140A of the Constitution and liable to be struck down by the Court,” the IHC maintained.
Hence, it added, the ECP notification was not legally sustainable and was liable to be set aside.
The polls were expected to take place as per the announced schedule before the federal cabinet, on Dec 19, approved a summary to increase the number of UCs, leaving both the candidates and the ECP surprised.
Later, the government frantically passed the bill in a hurriedly called session of the National Assembly on Dec 22.