ISLAMABAD: Local government elections should be held in Karachi urgently as the city is rapidly turning into a graveya­rd, former attorney general Khalid Jawed Khan said during the hearing of a petition seeking postponement of the exercise.

“Roads, in the proper sense of the word, are nowhere to be seen. Moving around the city is like a Safari ride [on bumpy, unmetalled roads],” the counsel said.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, the Supreme Court bench consisted of Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Ayesha Malik. It had taken up a set of petitions filed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf against the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA). The petition also challenged a plea for the postponement of local government elections, slated for Aug 28.

The Supreme Court directed Sindh’s Additional Advocate General Sibtain Mahmood to field some experts on Wednesday to explain how the delimitation of constituencies for local government elections was carried out.

Former NA speaker claims her vote shifted from Badin to Karachi under new delimitation

Fehmida Mirza, a former speaker of the National Assembly, drew the attention of the bench to the “pathetic state of affairs” in Badin, her hometown.

She complained that although she had been elected MNA from Badin five times, her name had been removed from the district’s voters list and transferred to Karachi. The delimitation exercise grossly violated the law as “variation to the extent of 60 per cent” was seen between the least and the most populous constituency, Ms Mirza alleged.

Khalid Jawed Khan argued that at present there was no elected local government in Sindh as the term of the last set-up had lapsed and polling for LG elections had already been completed in four divisions of the province. The remaining two divisions — Karachi and Hyderabad — are scheduled to vote on Aug 28.

Moreover, the former attorney general added, ballot papers for LG polls had alr­eady been printed, dispatched to polling stations and staff trained for the exercise.

During the hearing, the CJP observed that the court had to see whether or not any “application of mind” was done while dividing constituencies and conducting delimitation.

Justice Ayesha Malik observed that delimitation of constituencies for LG elections would never become controversial if Section 10(1) of the SLGA was implemented in a proper manner.

The counsel emphasised that the menace of gerrymandering and mal-apportionment of constituencies in different districts of Karachi and Hyderabad was fully addressed when the task of delimitation was entrusted to an impartial and neutral constitutional body — the Election Commission.

The commission neither had any reason to distort the delimitation process nor have the petitioners alleged or attributed any wrong motive to it, he observed.

“The only discrepancy pointed out by the petitioners was an unequal size of Constituencies — in excess of 10 per cent permissible variation. The petitioners’ case essentially was that all constituencies should have an equal population, with the variation margin not exceeding 10 per cent. “If the petitioner’s submissions are accepted, the present National and provincial assemblies would become unconstitutional.”

For example, Khalid Jawed said, in a constituency with a total of 100,000 votes cast, three contesting candidates secure 40,000, 35,000 and 25,000 votes. The one with 40,000 votes wins even after failing to get a simple majority — 50 per cent of the votes. “This negates the principle of equal weight and value to each vote.”

He contended that there was no role for ECP in deciding the composition or number of constituencies or electoral units for National and provincial assemblies as well as local government elections.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2022

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