ISLAMABAD: In yet another twist to the local elections in the federal capital, scheduled for Dec 31, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday set aside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) order of revoking the cabinet’s decision of increasing number of union councils from 101 to 125 and directed the ECP to decide the matter afresh after hearing all stakeholders on Dec 27.

The order was issued on a set of petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and a candidate of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) about election schedule, voters and candidates of different union councils related to voters’ list, as well as the aggrieved parties that challenged the recent ECP order to reject government decision regarding number of union councils.

While pronouncing the verdict, Chief Justice Aamer Farooq observed the IHC “cannot interfere in the decision of the federal government undertaken to devolve power in true spirit to the people of the locality and if in its wisdom.

“Election Commission ought to have understood the perspective of the federal government before passing the impugned order dated Dec 20, 2022 which on the face of it violates Section 4(4) of the Act of 2015.”

Court directs commission to hear all parties on 27th and decide matter afresh

As the case in hand seemed to be that of ‘first impression’, the ECP ought to have provided an opportunity to all concerned before arriving at a conclusion vide order dated Dec 20, Justice Farooq remarked.

The court earlier divided the petitions into two categories. In one set, petitioners were candidates for the local elections or voters of different union councils who sought corrections in voters’ list, whereas the other set included petitioners who challenged the ECP order against government’s decision to increase number of UCs in Islamabad from 101 to 125.

The petitioner, in the first category, contended that under Article 218 (3) of Constitution, it was ECP’s duty to hold fair and transparent elections.

In its order, the court stated: “Since the discrepancies pointed out in the voters’ list and the grievance raised in the first category of the case seems to be plausible and bona fide, hence the ECP is required to look into the matter and turning a blind eye would tantamount to flouting the spirit of the Constitution and Elections Act, 2017.”

The court converted those petitions into representation and remitted to the ECP to consider the grievances, mentioning that the correction of electoral rolls was provided in Sections 34 and 35 of the act.

Election schedule

In the other set of the litigation, the petitioners were aggrieved of the ECP decision whereby notwithstanding the change in number of UCs, the elections had been ordered to be held as per schedule.

Advocate General, Islamabad, Jahangir Khan Jadoon and Advocate Qazi Adil Aziz argued that the fact that the federal government was bound to promote and enhance the local bodies was not taken into account by the ECP. It was contended that before issuing the impugned order, the ECP did not provide an opportunity of hearing to anyone.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali argued before the court that bar regarding alteration was provided in Section 4(4) of the Local Government Act, while no such restriction was provided in Section 6 of the act. He said Section 4 was broader in as much as it talks of broader division of local area in Islamabad into union councils and metropolitan corporation, whereas Section 6 dealt with change in the number of UCs.

ECP DG (Law) Mohammad Arshad claimed there was no flaw in the voters’ list, which he said was according to law in the letter and spirit. He argued that no alteration in local area could be carried out under Section 4(4) of the LG Act once the election schedule had been out.

Sardar Taimoor Aslam, counsel for a petitioner, also defended the ECP order and sought direction to it for holding of elections as per schedule.

The court after hearing arguments remanded the case to the ECP.

The IHC directed the commission to decide the matter afresh after affording opportunity to all the concerned, including the federal government and taking into consideration the law. “The parties for the purpose of decision on notification dated Dec 19 shall appear before the Commission on Dec 27,” it ruled.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2022

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