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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has rejected the Balochistan government’s plea for putting off local government elections in the province till November.

A high-level meeting in connection with the local government polls in Balochistan was held on Friday at the ECP Secretariat, with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza in the chair.

Besides ECP members from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan retired Justice Irshad Qaiser and retired Justice Shakeel Ahmad Baloch, the meeting was also attended by the Balochistan chief secretary, law and local government secretary, advocate general for Balochistan and senior officers of the commission.

Chief secretary has sought delay on grounds that work on amendments to local government law under way

The chief secretary informed the commission that the Balochistan government had suggested some amendments to the local government act and work on them was under way. Therefore, he sought rescheduling of the ongoing delimitation process in the province and holding of the local government polls in November.

But the ECP made it clear that under Article 140-A of the Constitution and Section 219 (4) of the Elections Act, 2017, it was a constitutional obligation of the commission to hold elections within 120 days after the expiry of the term of local governments in the provinces. It said that no major change in the schedule for delimitation could be made in the interest of timely holding of the local government polls.

The commission made it clear that no delay in the holding of local government polls would be acceptable and invoked Article 220 of the Constitution, directing the Balochistan government to fully assist the ECP in timely holding of the elections.

All local bodies’ institutions in Balochistan stood dissolved on Jan 27 after the completion of their four-year term. Days before the expiry of the term, the CEC in a letter to the Balochistan chief minister had said that delimitation of local government constituencies had become a prerequisite in the province on certain grounds, including consequential scenario of census 2017.

He said that under Articles 140-A, 219(d) and 222(b) of the Constitution and Section 221 of the Elections Act, read with Section-16(2) of the Balochistan Local Government Act 2010, the ECP was responsible for conducting local government elections in the provinces and carrying out delimitation of local government constituencies for the purpose.

Balochistan Minister for Local Government and Rural Development Sardar Saleh Bhootani had said last month that the provincial government was taking measures to introduce an effective local government system that was not in conflict with tribal custom and local tradition of the province. He said he had consulted mayors, chairmen of district and municipal committees, officials of the local government and other people to seek their suggestions for changes in the local bodies’ system.

“Traditions and custom of Balochistan are different from Punjab and other parts of the country and we will introduce the new local government system keeping in view our tribal traditions and custom,” Mr Bhootani had said.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019