MUZAFFARABAD: Only two days after the announcement of the schedule for the long overdue local bodies (LB) elections, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government on Saturday tabled a constitutional amendment bill in the Legislative Assembly withdrawing this responsibility from the region’s election commission.

The 15th constitutional amendment bill, which was tabled in the house by minister for local government and rural development Khawaja Farooq Ahmed with the full backing of the two major opposition parties - Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) - envisaged creation of a separate election commission forlocal government bodies, as used to exist before the 13th constitutional amendment of 2018.

The appointment of election commissioner for local bodies would be made by the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader.

The bill was referred by the house to a 10-member house committee comprising lawmakers from both sides of the divide for its report.

It may be recalled that last time the people of Azad Kashmir elected their LB representatives for a four-year term was in 1991.

From 1995 onwards every government has been running these institutions either through the politically appointed administrators or district administration officials.

During the PPP rule in Azad Kashmir, some civil society activists had knocked the doors of superior judiciary for a direction to the government to hold LB polls at the earliest to transfer power at the grassroots level in accordance with its manifesto.

After a prolonged litigation initially in the High Court and later in the Supreme Court, the sitting government was finally directed by the apex court to hold these polls by August 30, 2022.

However, the deadline was extended by the apex court on the government’s request until October 15 , in keeping with which the election commission had announced on Aug 11 the schedule for LB polls, fixing September 28 for polling.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2022

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