• Officials say fresh delimitation process, issuance of new schedule could take up to four months
• Islamabad High Court issues notices to election watchdog, govt on PTI’s appeal
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday put an end to the uncertainty surrounding the local government elections in Islamabad as it postponed the polls “for the time being” at the last minute, frustrating thousands of contestants and their supporters.
The decision was announced by the election watchdog after a five-member bench, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, conducted a hearing on the issue in the light of the Islamabad High Court’s directives.
“Keeping in view the legal provisions and the judgement of the Honourable High Court, Islamabad dated Dec 23, 2022, regarding the subject matter. Local Government Elections in ICT scheduled to be held on Dec 31, 2022, is hereby postponed for the time being,” the short order by the ECP said.
Though the ECP did not give any timeframe for the next election date, after conversations with officials concerned, it would be safe to assume that local bodies polls would be held after April because of the new delimitation process.
After a new bill passed by parliament — yet to be signed by the president — the number of union councils increased from 101 to 125. According to officials, if elections are to be held in 125 councils, fresh delimitation will be required, which could take up to two months. Following the delimitation process, the ECP would issue a new schedule encompassing two months at least. All this would take four months at least, the officials said.
During a hearing at the ECP, former attorney general Ashtar Ausaf, who represented the government, argued that the Islamabad High Court had given a decision regarding the local body elections while the Islamabad administration recommended an increase in the number of union councils. He urged the ECP to consider the government’s request in view of an increase in the city’s population to make the election process ‘transparent and inclusive’.
PTI counsel Babar Awan pointed out that the aforementioned bill has not been signed by President Arif Alvi as yet. He remarked that it was the responsibility of the Election Commission to conduct elections as per the Constitution. Since the government was also contesting elections just like the PTI, it cannot dictate the terms, he added.
Jamaat-i-Islami’s lawyer Hassan Javed argued that it was the responsibility of the Election Commission to conduct the elections and added that the interference of the federal government was tantamount to limiting the powers of the commission.
just like the PTI, it cannot dictate the terms, he added.
Jamaat-i-Islami’s lawyer Hassan Javed argued that it was the responsibility of the ECP to conduct the elections and added that the interference of the federal government was tantamount to limiting the powers of the commission.
The CEC said that the high court asked the election watchdog to review the number of union councils. The JI counsel responded that the court had not limited the authority of the commission. During the hearing, CEC Raja said the government had put the election watchdog into an awkward spot by increasing the number of union councils at the last minute.
After the completion of the arguments, the ECP issued a short ruling and postponed the local body elections.
Notices to ECP
Earlier in the day, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), while hearing a petition filed by PTI challenging the single bench’s decision, issued notices to the commission and the federal government.
A division bench, comprising Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Arbab Mohammad Tahir, took up the petition filed by PTI leader Ali Nawaz Awan.
PTI lawyer Sardar Taimoor Aslam argued that earlier this year the IHC decided the pleas pertaining to the local bodies polls in the federal capital.
He argued that earlier the LG elections were delayed in June as the government after the announcement of the schedule increased the number of Union Councils from 50 to 101.
He said that while the ECP has announced the schedule for holding elections on Dec 31 in 101 UCs, the government again increased their numbers from 101 to 125.
He said that the government took this decision when the ECP had made the arrangements to conduct polls, the contesting candidates were winding up election campaigns and the polling staff had already been notified for various polling stations.
Justice Kayani remarked that earlier, the previous government of PTI was not interested in holding the elections and now the incumbent government seemed reluctant to hold the polls.
The counsel said that the government had given an undertaking to the court to hold the elections in 101 UCs. He added that the PTI filed a petition seeking contempt of court proceedings against the government for flouting the court orders.
The counsel requested the court to restrain the ECP from announcing an order on the LG elections. However, the court refused to issue such directions and adjourned the hearing till Wednesday (today).
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022