ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday to go ahead with the second phase of local government elections in Sindh.

After three days of continuous hearing on a set of petitions, a three-judge SC bench made a specific mention of an intervener — Jamaat-i-Islami’s (JI) Karachi chief Naeemur Rehman — who had regretted that local polls were already behind schedule by over two years.

While disposing of the matter, a short order dictated by Chief Justice of Pakis­tan Umar Ata Bandial said the pro­cess to hold the local government ele­ctions cannot be stopped at this stage.

The bench, consisting of the CJP, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Ayesha Malik, had taken up a set of petitions filed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and others against the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA) as well as seeking postponement of the second phase of local government elections in Sindh, slated for Aug 28.

The first phase of local government elections was held in 14 districts of Sindh on June 26.

On Wednesday, Advocate General for Sindh (AGS) Hassan Akbar and the provincial local government secretary briefed the apex court about the procedure adopted for delimitation of constituencies of union committees and union councils.

The officials informed the Supreme Court that population was not the sole consideration for delimitation of constituencies.

The advocate general drew the court’s attention to the guidelines suggested by the Sindh High Court through a 2016 judgement in a similar case for carrying out the delimitation process for local government elections.

The CJP observed that the apex court decides matters on the basis of law and not on the basis of disputes, but in this case the questions of law have partially been addressed by SHC. After this the MQM approached the ECP.

The CJP observed that the system was working smoothly since there was coordination between the ECP and provincial governments, but none of these issues were discussed before the SHC vis-à-vis MQM because the first phase of local government elections were only 10 days away when the party challenged the vires of Section 10(1) of SLGA-2013 in the high court.

Therefore, the MQM should carry on its battle before either the Election Commission or the Sindh High Court by making a robust case, CJP Bandial observed.

Muttahida’s perception

Justice Ayesha Malik observed that enactment of new rules at this stage would complicate matters as the first phase of local elections had already been held and the issue had not been challenged before any court.

The petitioner (MQM) believed that Section 10(1) of SLGA was arbitrary, but it did not challenge the vires of the law, Justice Malik recalled.

However, Barrister Farogh Naseem said he had challenged the law through an application before the Sindh High Court.

In its order the court recalled how the petitioner had sought an amendment in its original petition before the SHC through an application on June 18, challenging the first phase of local government elections. Voting for the first phase took place on June 26.

That amended petition contained new points like exercise of authority by the provincial government under Section 10(1) of SLGA. It contended that such exercise of power was in conflict with a 2014 Supreme Court judgement and that no criterion was laid down for the implementation of Section 10 of SLGA.

But these points were never pressed before the SHC and, furthermore, the application to amend the original petition was not allowed.

Salahuddin Ahmed, representing the PTI, said he would not oppose the second phase of elections, saying all he wanted was that the apex court’s Feb 1 directive should be implemented in letter and spirit.

Through its Feb 1 judgement, the Supreme Court had restrained the Sindh government from undertaking fresh projects that fall within the domain of an elected local government, without consent of that particular body. Salahuddin Ahmed argued that without meaningful devolution of powers to elected local bodies by the Sindh government, the tenure of elected representatives would become meaningless.

The court, however, observed that it was not in a position to consider the plea at the moment, but he was at liberty to file a petition for implementation of the Feb 1 order.

Fehmida Mirza, a former speaker of the National Assembly, complained that the names of a number of voters in Badin, her hometown, had been removed from the voters list. She regretted the ECP had become a “distant observer who watches helplessly all the time”.

The entire election was being conducted by the provincial administration, she alleged, adding that in eight wards in Badin, the population had exceeded the permissible 10 per cent variation formula.

“Is it a coincidence that a large number of members who were elected unopposed in the first phase, belong to the ruling party in Sindh.”

The court suggested Fehmida Mirza to file a petition before a relevant forum since the ECP was making efforts for holding the second phase of elections.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022

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