KARACHI: Restoring the previous local government law, the Sindh High Court on Wednesday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to immediately fix a date to hold elections of mayor and other LG representatives across the province by secret ballot.

The short order came on as many as five identical petitions challenging the passage of an amendment bill that abolished secret ballot for the election of mayors, deputy mayors, chairmen and vice-chairmen of local councils, binding the members to cast their votes by showing their hands instead of casting secret ballots.

The petitions were filed by leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and PML-Functional, who requested the court to annul the amendment to the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013, which binds the members to cast their votes by showing their hands instead of secret ballot for electing mayors and deputy mayors, etc.

Later, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf and the Jamaat-i-Islami also joined the proceedings as interveners defending the amendment.

The petitioners asked the court to set aside the amendment made by the Sindh Assembly as, according to them, the amendment was in violation of Article 266 of the Constitution which allowed secret ballot.

They contended that the Constitution clearly stated that all elections, except those of the prime minister and the chief minister, should be held by secret ballot. Therefore, the petitioners said, any procedure held for electing Local Government representatives by show of hands would be against the Constitution.

The petitioners submitted that the Sindh Assembly passed the bill on Jan 18 making changes to the procedure for the election of mayors, deputy mayors, chairmen, vice chairmen and other elected members of union councils and union committees in the province.

They mentioned that “Article 226 provides that all elections under the Constitution shall be held by secret ballot and balloting through the show of hands will increase corrupt practices and expression of free will of the members for exercising their votes as per their conscience will be impossible and also lend the members to face hardships, hazards and political victimisation”.

The petitioners argued that such an amendment was a violation of Articles 7, 37(1), 140-A and 219(d) of the Constitution, which requires the ECP to hold elections of the national and provincial assemblies, as well as local governments in a ‘free and fair’ manner.

“Article 226 of the Constitution states that all elections, except those for the prime minister and the chief minister, shall be held by secret ballot,” stated the petitioners, adding that therefore any procedure to elect LG representatives through a show of hands would be illegal.

They said holding elections in a manner in which sanctity of the secret ballot was not maintained was a violation of the Constitution.

The petitioners asked the court to declare the proposed bill ‘without lawful authority’.

They further pleaded to the court to restrain the respondents from conducting the elections through a show of hands.

Waseem Akhtar’s bail extended

A division bench extended for 10 days the pre-arrest bail of Muttahida Qaumi Movement mayoral nominee Waseem Akhtar in two cases pertaining to supporting party chief Altaf Hussain’s telephonic speech against the army.

The bench directed the MQM leader to approach the trial court by Feb 20 for the confirmation of his pre-arrest bail.

The MQM leader was booked in two separate but identical cases on Dec 3 by the Sohrab Goth and SITE-Superhighway police on the complaints of two citizens.

The complainant in one of the FIRs alleged that during a television current affairs programme, Mr Akhtar had supported his party chief’s statement against the federal institutions, the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Military Intelligence, operation Zarb-i-Azb and the Karachi operation.

The complainant accused the MQM leader of inciting the public to violence and harming the national interests of the country in his remarks made on television channels.

Mr Akhtar is stated to be nominated in as many as 27 different cases. The MQM has announced that he will be the party’s candidate for the office of Karachi mayor.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2016

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