ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has come under fire for setting a new precedence by postponing polls on reserved seats in local bodies of Sindh and Punjab on the basis of petitions pending adjudication.

In a surprising move, the commission modified notifications earlier issued by it to postpone the elections in the two provinces, citing the matter’s being sub judice as the only reason.

This prompted the two mainstream political parties — the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — to unleash criticism against the ECP, accusing it of playing a ‘partial’ role.

Under the previously announced schedule, polling for indirect elections for reserved seats in district councils, municipal corporations, district municipal corporations and metropolitan corporations in Sindh and the same excluding district municipal corporations in Punjab were scheduled for Feb 8. Polls for reserved seats in municipal committees and union councils in Punjab were scheduled for Feb 11 and 14, respectively.

The ECP had also issued the schedule for indirect elections in union councils, union committees, town committees and municipal committees in Sindh.

Senator Saeed Ghani of the PPP bluntly accused the ECP of being involved in ‘advancing the agenda’ of some political parties. “Either the commission is in collusion with them or afraid of them,” he alleged.

Pointing out that no stay order had been issued by any court against the elections, he said he wondered how an electoral exercise could be postponed just because of litigation.

The ‘incompetent’ ECP, he said, had ‘created a scene for itself’ and ‘turned the electoral process into a joke’ by its ‘unconstitutional’ steps.

“I do not expect that an ECP behaving in a manner like this will be able to conduct next general elections in a free, fair and transparent manner in accordance with its constitutional mandate,” Mr Ghani said.

Under the previously announced plan, he said, the ECP was going to hold elections for district municipal corporations and metropolitan corporations in Sindh through two different procedures. In the district body polls, “candidates belonging to political parties were being given symbols meant for independent candidates”.

PTI lawmaker Dr Arif Alvi also criticised the ECP for postponing the elections and said that it would set a wrong precedence for future when only the filing of a petition would be sufficient to get an election postponed at last minute.

He alleged that ‘certain’ parties were being ‘allowed to muster support of maximum voters through coercion and other methods’ and predicted that the new dates would be announced after the target was achieved.

The Sindh government through a recent amendment to local government law has provided for elections on reserved seats and the posts of chairman and vice chairman of local bodies and mayor and deputy mayor of metropolitan corporations through show of hands. The decision has been challenged in the high court. A similar provision has also been inserted in local government laws in Punjab and the legal battle against it continues there also.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2016

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