ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday put its foot down, setting Dec 19 and Jan 16 as the dates for the first and second phase of local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In a detailed order issued by a three-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, the ECP directed the provincial government, chief secretary and local government secretary to make all necessary arrangements and take requisite steps for free, fair and smooth conduct of elections in the province in assistance and aid of the Commission Office to take all necessary steps in this regard, accordingly.
It is for the first time in the country’s history that the ECP has asserted itself to meet a constitutional obligation, rejecting proposals by the representatives of the KP government.
Under the latest proposal, the KP government wanted elections for village and neighbourhood councils in two phases — first in December this year and second in March next year — and to take decision on polls for tehsil councils later.
An official said that under the order, the LG polls for village councils, neighbourhood councils and tehsil councils in 17 districts would be held in the first phase and the rest of 18 districts in the second phase.
The order, a copy of which is available with Dawn, stresses that the CEC and the ECP are absolutely independent with exclusive jurisdiction while performing duties within the terms of Part-Vill of the Constitution in which no interference is allowable by any of the parties.
“All the quarters concerned, namely federal and provincial governments, law enforcing agencies are under an obligation to ensure that the Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commission functions independently and to see that they are properly strengthened enabling them to discharge their constitutional commitments fairly, freely and without any hindrance and pressure of whatsoever nature,” the order stated.
It pointed out that the term of local governments in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa expired on August 28, 2019 and the Election Commission in terms of Section 219(4) of the Elections Act, 2017 was under legal obligation to conduct such local government elections within a period of 120 days of the expiry of the term. It said the provincial government was informed well within time by the commission for consultation on conduct of LG elections in terms of Section 219(3) of the Elections Act, 2017.
Referring to the provincial government’s plea that Section 79 of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act, 2013 has been amended, empowering the provincial government to hold the LG elections separately for the village/neighbourhood councils and tehsil councils and that the ECP was bound to conduct elections as per the amendment and applicable local government laws, the order said the stance was based on a misreading of Article 140-A (1) concerning the powers of the provincial governments.
It said that under the article, every province by law was to establish the LG system and devolve political, administrative and financial powers to the elected representatives, while the Election Commission was empowered to conduct the LG polls.
The ECP on Thursday issued a show-cause notice to federal Minister for Railways and PTI leader Azam Swati, requiring him to appear in person before it on October 26 to explain his tirade against the commission and CEC.
A two-member bench comprising ECP members Nisar Ahmed Durrani and Shah Mohammad Jatoi heard the case.
Mr Swati’s lawyer Faisal Chaudhry did not turn up and junior counsel informed the bench that Faisal Chaudhry was busy in the Supreme Court.
Informed sources told Dawn that Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry filed a fresh application seeking three more weeks to submit his reply. An official told Dawn that the commission decided in principle to reject the plea and issue a notice to Fawad Chaudhry, requiring him to appear before it on October 27.
The notices had been issued to both the federal ministers on September 16 for their onslaught on the ECP and CEC. Fawad Chaudhry had sought six weeks to submit a reply but was given three weeks, which ended on October 19.
Mr Swati chose not to respond at all and has now been summoned to appear before the ECP in person to explain his position.
This was not the first time when the ECP faced strong criticism and serious allegations from the ruling PTI as the commission after the March Senate polls, too, had advised the party to stop mudslinging and come up with evidence if it had any objections to the constitutional requirements, declaring that the institution would not succumb to any pressure.
In a renewed onslaught on the ECP, Azam Swati had on September 10 said such institutions should be set on fire after accusing the commission of taking “bribes and always rigging” polls. He also alleged that the ECP was “poking fun at the government” and “trying to ruin the democracy”.
The allegations were made only days after the ECP had objected to the government’s unilateral decision to introduce electronic voting machines in the next general elections.
A fresh blistering attack on the ECP was launched the same evening when Fawad Chaudhry, accompanied by Mr Swati and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan, accused the ECP of becoming the opposition’s headquarters and said the CEC was acting as a “mouthpiece of the opposition”.
Mr Chaudhry alleged that the CEC had played politics of ‘stupid’ objections to voting machines. “If they want to do politics, then response will come,” he said.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2021