ECP takes U-turn on delimitation for local govt elections in Islamabad

Published December 29, 2022
A view of an empty election camp of the PML-N in a locality in Islamabad on Tuesday. — Online/File
A view of an empty election camp of the PML-N in a locality in Islamabad on Tuesday. — Online/File

ISLAMABAD: In what appears to be a U-turn on the issue of delimitations, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in its detailed order said it was the government’s prerogative to increase the number of union councils (UCs) from 101 to 125 in the capital.

In its earlier response to the increase in the number of union councils, the election watchdog had termed the notification ‘illegal’ and refused to postpone local bodies polls in the federal capital.

“…We have arrived to the conclusion that in terms of Article 140-A(1)…the federal government is competent to establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments,” the ECP said.

“Likewise, in terms of sub-section (1) of Section 6 of the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Act 2015, determination of number of union councils within the Islamabad Capital Territory is mandate and prerogative of the federal government and thereafter the election commission has to delimit the constituencies after such demarcation,” the detailed order stated.

Commission says determination of number of UCs is federal govt’s mandate

The order pointed out that the federal and provincial governments take advantage of Section 219(1) of the Elections Act 2017 whereby it is mentioned that the commission shall conduct the local government elections under the applicable local government laws.

“The Commission has already proposed certain amendments in the constitution and the Elections Act 2017 so that local government elections may be conducted in time without any delay and should not be delayed by the provincial governments on one pretext or the other,” the commission said.

It urged the governments and parliament to make necessary amendments to Article 140-A and Section 219 of the Elections Act so that local government laws should not be amended near to the conduct of elections or at least such late amendments should not be applicable to the immediate next elections.

The term of the local government bodies in Islamabad expired on February 14, 2021, and under the law, the ECP was bound to conduct elections within 120 days.

Experts believe the ECP’s decision to carry out fresh delimitation would make the conduct of LG polls before general elections next to impossible. The ECP order did not mention if subordinate legislation and notifications could override constitutional provisions.

After facing delaying tactics by the then government, the ECP initiated the process of delimitation and issued the Schedule on March 25, 2022, for carrying out the delimitation of constituencies i.e. 50 Union Councils, 300 General wards and 100 Women Wards. The delimitation committees completed their assigned tasks and a final list of constituencies was published on May 19, 2022.

Thereafter, the schedule for elections was issued on June 2 and July 31 was fixed as the polling day. Meanwhile, the federal government increased the number of union councils from 50 to 101, and the matter was taken by Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry of the PML-N to the Islamabad High Court for its implementation.

The commission during the pendency of the writ petition increased the number of UCs from 50 to 101 and informed the bench upon which the matter was disposed of on June 22.

The commission once again initiated the process of delimitation in the capital and issued a schedule on June 22 for 101 UCs, 606 general wards and 202 women wards. This time, Dec 31 was fixed as the election day. On Dec 19, the government increased the number of UCs from 101 to 125.

The next day the commission decided to hold the elections as per the schedule already issued, but a day later it changed its stance and agreed to postpone the elections.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2022

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