PESHAWAR: The provincial election commission on Friday suspended the process for conducting the second phase of local government elections in 18 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The commission took the decision in the light of the February 1 order of the Peshawar Higher Court’s Abbottabad bench setting aside the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) schedule for the 2nd phase of LG polls and directing the chief election commissioner (CEC) to reschedule the elections after Ramazam or as and when the weather normalises.

According to the ECP’s Jan 20 notification, which was set aside by the PHC, the returning officers concerned had to issue public notices on Feb 4 (Friday) to the candidates for filing of nomination papers. However, in view of the court’s directive, the office of provincial election commissioner directed all the commission’s staff, including returning officers and district returning officers, not to issue public notices till further orders.

In a letter issued to all the staff members, the commissioner has quoted a portion of the PHC judgement stating that “under these circumstances, we are of the view that a fair, free and transparent election is not possible in the aforementioned disturbed areas. We, therefore set aside the impugned notification No.F.16(1)2021-LGE-KP, dated 20-01-2022, and direct the chief election commissioner of Pakistan to reschedule the elections after Ramadhan, 2022 or as and when the weather is normalised in the mentioned areas”.

The PHC’s Abbottabad circuit bench had issued the verdict on a petition filed by several persons requesting the court to postpone the polls in five districts of Hazara division since most of the areas were snowbound.

According to the ECP schedule, Feb 4 was fixed for issuing public notices, while the candidates were to file nomination papers between Feb 7 and Feb 11.

Many returning officers had already issued the public notices as the provincial election commissioner issued the directives for withholding the process at around 11am on Friday. The retuning officers withdrew the notices they had issued hours ago, an official in the provincial election commission told Dawn.

He said the provincial election commissioner had issued the directives to withheld the election process after receiving instructions from the ECP’s central office. The official said the ECP got the PHC’s detailed judgement on Friday.

According to the election schedule, March 27 was fixed for holding the elections for the posts of mayor and chairman of tehsil and city councils and different categories of members in village and neighbourhood councils in 18 districts.

They are: Abbottabad, Mansehra, Battagram, Torghar, Kohistan Upper, Kohistan Lower, Kolai-Palas, Kohistan, Swat, Malakand, Shangla, Lower and Upper Dir, Upper and Lower Chitral, Kurram, Orakzai and North and South Waziristan.

The first phase of LG elections was held in 17 districts on Dec 19, 2021.

In the second phase, elections will be held for 65 posts of tehsil and city council chairmen and mayors in 18 districts.

JI to challenge PHC decision

Jamaat-i-Islami KP naib emir and MPA Inayatullah Khan said his party had decided to challenge the PHC decision in the Supreme Court. He termed the decision a violation of the Supreme Court’s judgement directing the ECP to hold local bodies elections in the province.

The ECP had issued the election schedule in the light of the SC decision, Mr Khan said in a statement. “It is wrong perception that elections cannot be held on March 27 in the snowbound areas,” he said, wondering when elections in the past had been conducted in such areas in the month of February, then why these could not be held in March.

The JI leader said the ruling PTI was running away from the elections due its pathetic performance in the first phase of LG polls and that the PHC judgement had come on an “engineered petition”.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2022

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