ISLAMABAD: The Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan (ECP) came down hard on the Sindh government at the Tuesday hearing of pleas against the postponement of local government elections, with Chief Elec­tion Commi­ssioner Sikan­dar Sultan Raja accusing the provincial cabinet of usurping ECP power and telling the government to ask Punjab to provide police to meet the security shortfall.

“It is our responsibility to hold elections, you have taken this power from us,” the CEC remarked before the five-member bench he headed reserved its verdict on the matter.

ECP Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal Hussain earlier informed the bench that the LG polls were initially postponed due to rains but then the Sindh government approved postponement for another 90 days. “Delay in the local bodies polls is a violation of Supreme Court’s order,” he said, stressing that the elections should be held at the earliest in the light of top court’s orders.

When asked, Joint Secretary Ramzan Malik told the ECP that the ministry could not provide civil armed forces for elections as the bulk of the security forces were still busy providing security in the flood-affected areas of Sindh. “We are not in a position to fulfil the security needs of the local government elections,” the official said. “The situation does not allow us to deploy civil armed forces at these elections.”

Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab said the second phase of elections was postponed twice due to rain and flood, as 25pc to 30pc of “Sindh is under water”. He said: “It is not possible to provide security forces and administrative staff for the elections in Karachi. About 1,300 polling stations in Karachi are sensitive, and every station requires eight officials.”

“Are you not in a position to provide security?” CEC Raja questioned, reminding him that the ECP and CEC had the authority to announce a date for elections. Polls should be held within 120 days, he said, adding that the LG elections would also be held in Punjab.

Mr Wahab said the Sindh government that conducted the elections in the “first phase with mutual understanding” did not want anyone to raise questions this time.

As the spokesperson admitted that the Sindh government approved postponement of the elections for 90 days, an ECP member asked how the Sindh cabinet could use the ECP’s authority. Mr Wahab insisted it was Sindh government’s authority “as per law” to announce LG elections, adding that the provincial government would announce the elections after consulting the ECP.

However, the CEC reminded him, “It is our responsibility to hold elections, you have taken this power from us.” At this, ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Ikramullah Khan asked, “Under which rule you have amended the local government law?”

Endorsing the Sindh government’s stance to put off local government elections, the IGP said: “Any untoward incident could happen, [as] we have a shortage of 17,000 personnel. We can hold election on the order of the election commission but will face security issues. He recalled that in 2015 LG polls, 17 persons died and 30 were injured in violence.

Deploring that the provincial governments continue to drag their feet on local government elections, the CEC asked Sindh to meet the security shortfall by asking Punjab to provide police to the province. He said: “We have to hold elections in Punjab and Sindh.”

Repeated changes to LG law

Meanwhile, the ECP at a meeting chaired by CEC Raja expressed displeasure over non-provision of requisite documents, data and maps by the Punjab government and noted that repeated amendments to the LG law made it impossible to conduct the election.

ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan earlier briefed the forum that the Punjab government had enacted a law for holding LG election. The Punjab Assembly, he explained, passed the Local Government Bill, on November 1, 2022, whereas on October 25, 2022, during the hearing of the case of local government elections, the ECP had ordered the Punjab government to provide election rules, delimitation rules, data of union councils, other information and maps to the ECP within 15 days so that the commission could start delimitation work.

The meeting was informed that ‘draft rules’ had been received from the provincial government while other documents, data and maps had not been provided to the ECP. The commission took strong notice of the situation and expressed displeasure that the commission completed the delimitation work twice in the past besides the expenses incurred proved to be a burden on the national exchequer. Yet the “insensitive attitude” of the provincial government and repeated amendments to the law was making it impossible for the ECP to hold elections in Punjab, it noted.

The ECP ordered the relevant officials to call the Punjab local government minister, chief secretary and LG secretary for a meeting, as the commission was bound to hold the LG polls within 120 days.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2022

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