ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has proposed conduct of coming local government (LG) elections across the country in three phases in view of the four-time larger magnitude of the exercise as compared to general polls, according to informed sources.

Sharing details of a series of meetings of the commission on conduct of LG polls held earlier this week, the sources told Dawn that all the provinces still wanted to delay the polls on the pretext of their intention to make substantive changes in the local government laws.

The sources said the participants, including provincial ministers and senior bureaucrats, were told that the total number of constituencies for National and provincial assemblies came to 849, whereas the number of constituencies for LG polls in Punjab alone was 25,000.

They were told that a voter cast two votes in general elections for National and provincial assemblies, whereas in LG elections a voter in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would have to cast six votes and the number of ballot papers required to be printed for Punjab and KP would be 200 million and 100 million, respectively.

Delimitation of constituencies can’t be carried out on basis of provisional results of census, insist Sindh & Balochistan

Sultan Mohammad Khan, KP Minister for Law, proposed single phase elections in the province, pointing out that the previous elections were also held in one phase.

He said the KP government was committed to holding LG elections and the provincial cabinet had proposed Sept 15 as the date of the elections. Asserting that the elections should not be held before September, he said the situation relating to Covid-19 was again deteriorating in the province.

Shumail Ahmed Butt, Advocate General of KP, said that safety of human life must be given consideration while making a decision on LG elections. He noted that large gatherings due to election campaigns might further aggravate the spread of the pandemic.

Dr Kazim Niaz, chief secretary of KP, told the commission that after the merger of tribal areas with the province, there were still some administrative issues that required to be settled before announcement of the election schedule for these areas.

The sources said the Punjab government agreed to the proposal of three-phased elections in the province, but said the electoral exercise should be staggered division-wise and not district-wise as envisaged in the ECP plan.

Raja Mohammad Basharat, Punjab Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, said in case the commission decided to hold elections in phases, the proposed phases should be related to divisions and elections in three divisions might be held in each phase.

He recalled that previously as well, LG elections in Punjab were held in three phases. He said the government of Punjab was committed to hold LG elections in September.

The director general of the Military Lands and Cantonments Department told the commission that a summary proposing dates for elections to the cantonment boards had already been submitted to the federal cabinet through the Ministry of Defence and was pending for a final decision.

He said that the department was ready to conduct elections as and when a decision was made in this regard. He proposed that elections to the cantonment boards might be held in one phase.

The chief secretary of Sindh took stance that the delimitation of constituencies could not be carried out on the basis of provisional results of the Population Census-2017 and it could be carried out only after official publication of the results of the census.

The commission asked Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Law Murtaza Wahab whether the option of holding LG elections on the basis of Population Census-1998 could be explored. The adviser responded that such a decision was practically not feasible due to substantial demographic changes and increase in population in Sindh.

Mr Wahab seconded the opinion of the Sindh chief secretary that under the Constitution and the law the delimitation could not be carried out on the basis of provisional results of the census.

With reference to LG elections in Balochistan, the ECP secretary said that term of the local government institutions in the province had expired on Jan 27, 2019. The ECP initiated the process of fresh delimitation on Jan 17, 2019 on the basis of provisional results of the census but the process was suspended by the Balochistan High Court on Feb 12, 2019. The matter is still pending before the court and next date of hearing is in April.

The chief secretary of Balochistan endorsed the position taken by Sindh that the delimitation could not be carried out on the basis of provisional results of the census 2017.

The meeting was told that the four-year term of LG institutions in KP expired on Aug 27, 2019.

On May 4, 2019, the Punjab Local Government Act, 2019 and Punjab Village Panchayats and Neighbourhood Councils Act, 2019 were enacted, dissolving the LG bodies, the term of which was otherwise to expire on Jan 1, 2022.

The four-year term of LG institutions in Sindh expired on Aug 30, 2020.

The terms of cantonment boards expired on Dec 9, 2019.

The LG elections in the Federal Capital Territory were held on Nov 30, 2015 and the tenure of the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation is to expire on Feb 14, 2021.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2021

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