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History repeats itself as Balochistan drags its feet on LG polls

Updated February 14, 2019

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ECP to approach courts to ensure elections are held in time. — File photo
ECP to approach courts to ensure elections are held in time. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: History repeats itself as the Balochistan government continues to drag its feet over local government polls the way it did in 2013, ignoring the Election Commission of Pakistan’s directives for cooperation over holding of timely elections as required under Article 220 of the Constitution.

Informed sources told Dawn on Wednesday that the ECP had received through official channels a copy of a resolution unanimously adopted by the Balochistan Assembly on Monday, demanding that the ongoing delimitation exercise and local government elections in the province be put off indefinitely.

The resolution recommends that the provincial government take up the issue with the federal government, which in turn should ask the ECP to postpone the polls so that the local government system could be reformed.

The development took place late on Monday night when the treasury and opposition benches joined hands to adopt the resolution. It was moved by Balochistan Minister for Higher Education and Information Zahoor Ahmed Buledi on behalf of all members of the assembly.

ECP to approach courts to ensure elections are held in time

It was the same day the ECP had sent minutes of a high-level meeting, rejecting the plea for putting off delimitation and local government polls, to the provincial chief secretary and the secretary of the local government.

The sources said the Balochistan High Court had also ordered that the delimitation process be halted till the last week of February.

They said that the high court had also been approached in 2013 when the government had amended the law after the announcement of the schedule for polls just to delay the elections. However, the bench headed by then BHC chief justice Qazi Faez Isa had put its foot down and allowed the process to continue.

When contacted, a senior official of the ECP said the developments taking place were disturbing. He, however, expressed the hope that all institutions would carry forward the democratic process and the ECP’s directive under Article 220 of the Constitution would be implemented in letter and spirit.

Article 220 of the Constitution reads: “It shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the federation and in the provinces to assist the commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions.”

The official made it clear that the commission would go to any extent to meet its legal and constitutional obligation of holding timely local government polls, indicating that an intra-court appeal against the BHC’s decision would be filed, and in case it did not grant relief, the Supreme Court would be moved.

The official said that the term of Balochistan’s local government institutions had expired on Jan 27 and under Article 140-A of the Constitution, Section 219 (4) of the Elections Act 2017 and Section 16 (2) of the Balochistan Local Government Elections Act 2010, polls were to be held within 120 days after the expiry of LG bodies’ term. “That means the conduct of LG elections in Balochistan before May 27 is the constitutional responsibility of the ECP,” he said.

During last week’s meeting attended by top officials of the provincial government, the ECP had rejected their plea for postponing the local government elections and delaying the delimitation exercise.

The ECP had made it clear that it could not go beyond the timeframe set by the law and the Constitution, noting that it would have been better that necessary amendments were made by now and the amended act was provided to the commission. It was pointed out that the ECP had sensitised the Balochistan government as early as September 2018.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2019