ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take a decision by Tuesday (today) on the second phase of local government (LG) elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after hearing the respondents and those aggrieved at the new election schedule.

Through a Feb 9 notification, the ECP has already further extended the date for the second phase of LG elections in KP from March 27 to March 31 after the apex court had suspended the Feb 1 Peshawar High Court’s order postponing the polls.

On Monday, the Supreme Court observed that it would not like to set any wrong precedence by suspending the election schedule but ask the ECP to come out with an appropriate order after listening to the aggrieved parties and the respondents, namely the KP chief secretary, secretary of the Coordi­nation Unit of Local Government Election and Rural Development Department, Fida Muhammad and Gul Badshah.

Advocate Afnan Karim Kundi, representing the ECP, argued that the commission had already extended the poll date to March 31 to accommodate the delay caused by the PHC judgement.

Commission has already extended date to March 31

Initially, the second phase of LG polls in 18 districts of KP was to be held in the last week of January, but it was rescheduled by the ECP through a Dec 30, 2021 order on applications filed by local MNAs and MPAs.

On Jan 20 this year, the ECP had issued a notification announcing the holding of second phase of LG elections in KP on March 27.

But on Feb 1, the PHC’s Abbottabad bench had in a verbal order postponed the elections after accepting petitions of the residents of five districts of KP on the grounds that these districts were expected to remain under snow in the last week of March due to heavy snow accumulation and, therefore, it would not be possible to set up polling stations, dispatch polling staff and procure requisite record and other instruments.

During Monday’s hearing, KP Advocate General Shumail Butt opposed the new election schedule, saying the ECP had not consulted the province before issuing the new election date. He said the provincial government’s support in favour of the postponement of the elections was based on the report prepared by the armed forces.

At this, ECP’s counsel Afnan Kundi said the KP government was not a party before the PHC, adding that the commission had issued the fresh schedule after the local government secretary consented to the date. In its appeal, the commission had pleaded that the high court had postponed the elections in 18 districts of KP when the petitioners from five different districts had approached the court, he said.

“Let’s close the ECP,” regretted Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, adding that the KP government wanted to see powers of the commission clipped.

The ECP had sought leave to appeal against the Feb 1 PHC verbal order, arguing that the written judgement to be announced by the high court soon would not be in accordance with the facts and the law and, therefore, liable to be set aside.

The appeal contended that the PHC order impinged upon the independence of the ECP in holding the LG elections under Articles 219(d), 222(d) and 222(f) of the Constitution, read with Section 219 of the Elections Act 2017.

The verbal order, the appeal argued, unduly interfered with the ECP’s exclusive and specialised domain of conducting local government elections, including the announcement of the election programme — the date of election and the schedule for different activities starting from the issuance of public notice by returning officers inviting nomination papers until the polling day and consolidation of the results.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2022

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