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SC calls for local govt polls across country by Sept 15

Updated July 18, 2013
—File Photo.
—File Photo.

ISLAMABAD: After having received a commitment from the federal government that local government elections in all cantonment boards would be held by Sept 15, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday that the provincial governments and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) should consider doing so on the same day or with slight modification.

The fate of the LG system hangs in the balance as provincial governments have so far failed to make effective legislation and give the people a better replacement for the one introduced by the Musharraf regime and address their problems at the grassroots level.

“We will appreciate if the provinces and the ICT hold the local bodies’ elections within the same period,” observed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The issue cropped up during the hearing of the Balochistan law and order situation by a three-judge bench. The court noted that although the elected governments had taken over the affairs, no concrete step had yet been taken to fulfill the constitutional commitment.

At a previous hearing the court had asked law officers of the provincial governments to seek instructions from their administrations about holding the LG elections. “It is necessary to hold the local government elections not only to fulfill the constitutional command but also to ensure participation of people for good governance,” the court observed.

Except for Sindh, all other provincial governments as well as the ICT expressed their willingness in the court on Wednesday to hold the elections, but none gave a final date.

“Prima facie, we are of the opinion that for want of a network at the grassroots level it is difficult to establish contact with citizens living in far-flung areas and it is the need of the hour as well as constitutional commitment in terms of articles 32 and 140-A of the constitution to hold the local government elections,” the court observed.

Deputy Attorney General Sajid Ilyas Bhatti submitted a statement on behalf of the ICT suggesting that it was ready to hold the elections in rural areas of Islamabad under the Capital Territory Local Government Ordinance 1979. But the chief justice asked him to ensure that elections were held in both the rural and urban areas without any distinction.

The court directed the provincial governments to submit on Thursday statements suggesting a specific date for holding the LG elections.

The Election Commission has been asked to make a presentation when it will be in a position to hold the elections.

The superior judiciary had also issued similar orders in the past, but the bureaucracy and provincial governments turned a deaf ear to them.

An expert on the LG system alleged that the bureaucracy was creating hurdles because of its vested interests. He said senior government officials in the provinces, especially those belonging to the District Management Group, had been waiting for a judgment by the Balochistan High Court on a petition seeking magisterial powers for local administration officials.

Daniyal Aziz, a former chairman of the defunct National Reconstruction Bureau, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2009 seeking an order for holding the local government elections, but a decision is awaited.

The Balochistan government has introduced its own LG Act, but it has many flaws. One of its clauses states that LG polls will be held by the provincial election commission. But the constitutional amendment requires that these must be conducted by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Another anomaly is that some of the posts created under the LG Act 2000 still exist despite the fact that the system introduced by the Musharraf regime has been wrapped up in Balochistan.

The Punjab government is reported to have prepared a draft of the LG Act, but it is yet to be adopted by the provincial assembly.

The Sindh government restored LG Act 1979 in February for political point scoring and to please one of its political allies, but it was later withdrawn and the provincial government has yet to introduce an alternative LG system.