ISLAMABAD: Uncertainty looms over the fate of the upcoming local government (LG) elections in Islamabad as the interior ministry has withdrawn a letter, in which it had requested for delimitation of 50 union councils (UCs).

During a meeting of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, the ECP officials said the delimitation process had been started after the interior ministry, in a letter dated May 18, informed the commission that the capital would have 50 UCs.

However, officials said, after the ECP started the delimitation process, another letter was issued by the ministry dated July 6, in which it withdrew the earlier letter.

Henceforth, the commission could not continue the ongoing delimitation process, a statement issued by the ECP after the meeting said.

The statement said the ECP had taken notice of the issue and directed the interior secretary and chief commissioner to attend a meeting on Aug 5 and explain the reasons behind withdrawal of the letter and the government’s point of view on the upcoming LG elections.

It is relevant to note here that the last local government elections were held in Islamabad in Nov 2015 on the direction of the Supreme Court, as the federal government at that time adopted delaying tactics in this regard.

Following the election, polls for the post of mayor and deputy mayors were held in March 2016.

However, this system, which exclusively focuses on resolving public grievances at the grass root level, was neither preferred by the PML-N nor its successor PTI, as they did not release any financial package for Islamabad. Even rules and business of the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) were not finalised, and the tenure of the local government ended without any significant accomplishment. Even the local representatives were not paid their honorarium.

Last month, ECP issued a notification to start delimitation process and stated that a preliminary list of constituencies/wards will be published on Aug 11, and a final list would be released on Sept 20 after completion of the necessary formalities. However, following the latest development, the whole process of holding LG polls has become uncertain.

When contacted, PTI’s Local Body Committee Chairman Malik Amir said the federal government would introduce a vibrant local government system in the capital.

Mr Amir, who also served as chairman of Sohan Union Council for five years, said the last elections were held on the basis of the 1998 census under a weak Local Government Act 2015, which was the main reason behind the failure.

“We are going to introduce a new system based on an amended or new Local Government Act,” he said, adding that the numbers of union councils would see a significant increase as the next local bodies elections would be organised on the basis of the census conducted in 2017.

When asked whether the government is reluctant to hold elections in Islamabad as the MCI completed its term in February this year and so far there seemed to be no serious attempt on the part of the government to hold early LG polls, Mr Amir said: “Not at all; a vibrant local government system is part of the PTI’s manifesto and we will hold the elections as soon as possible.”

Earlier, the ECP in its Tuesday’s meeting decided to call chief secretaries and secretaries of local governments (Sindh and Balochistan) to the next meeting scheduled for Aug 10, to brief the commission about the steps taken by them for conducting the local bodies elections in their respective provinces.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2021

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