ISLAMABAD: While the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday sought a new timeline for the local government (LG) elections in the federal capital from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the latter proposed amendments to the legal framework to ensure timelypollsfor the lowest tiers.

IHC Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir was hearing identical petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamaat-i-Islami against the decision concerning the postponement of the LG elections.

A day earlier, Justice Tahir had issued a notice to the attorney general and questioned why the court shouldn’t ask the federal cabinet to pay the amount incurred on the arrangements of LG elections. The court also warned of setting aside ECP’s decision of postponing the elections as well.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf told the court that the ECP was also not ready to conduct the elections on Dec 31. The ECP director general informed the court that due to an increase in the number of union councils from 101 to 125, the election watchdog could not conduct polls on Dec 31. He said the ECP had allocated Rs600 million for these elections.

Justice Tahir remarked that the court would initiate contempt proceedings against the ECP for not honouring its commitment to the court to conduct elections on Dec 31. He asked whether the decision to defer polls violated the assurance ECP had submitted to the court.

Upset by delays, ECP proposes amendments tolaw to ensure timely election for lowest tiers

The counsel representing the ECP informed the court that the election act authorised the federal government to increase the number of union councils in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

The court inquired whether the federal government could increase the number of UCs at any time. The ECP’s counsel replied that there was no bar on the government and added that the area of the UCs could be changed in consultation with ECP.

On the court’s query, the ECP director general replied that the delimitation of newly created UCs will be done in two months. Justice Tahir asked who was responsible for the wastage of Rs600 million released for the LG elections. He further remarked that the court would not burden the taxpayers. The ECP official said the commission would present a detailed report about the expenditure incurred on these elections so far.

He informed the bench that the IHC single-member bench had asked the ECP to hear the government’s stance regarding the increase in UCs and added that the ECP postponed the elections after hearing the government as per the directives of the IHC.

The attorney general questioned the maintainability of the petitions.

The government lawyer said how the delay was affecting the fundamental rights of petitioners and added that even though PTI was ruling Punjab it had not even issued a schedule for the local government polls. He argued that it would create problems in case the IHC set aside the decision of postponing the elections. Justice Tahir asked the attorney general and ECP to submit a written reply on Friday and adjourned the hearing.

The petitioner, PTI’s local leader Ali Nawaz Awan through his counsel Sardar Taimoor Aslam informed the court that On June 2, 2022, the ECP had announced the election schedule for 50 UCs. The government increased the UCs to 101. Thereafter, the ECP announced the election schedule for Dec 31.

However, a summary was sent to the federal cabinet, seeking an increase in the number of UCs from 101 to 125. Based on the summary, the number of UCs was increased to 125 vide a notification dated Dec 19. Eventually, the ECP postponed the polls in light of the government’s move to increase UCs.

ECP proposes amendments

Upset by the practice of federal and provincial governments to drag their feet on the local government elections, the ECP proposed amendments to the legal framework to ensure holding of timely elections for the lowest tier.

According to a draft proposal prepared by the ECP’s law wing, an amendment has been proposed in section 219 of the elections act to bind the respective governments to undertake amendments in the local government laws and administrative units well in time.

“The federal government or as the case may be the provincial government shall make necessary arrangements including amendments in the existing local government laws, rules, change or alteration in administrative limits of districts, tehsils and local areas before the expiry of the term of local government,” the proposed amendment in the section reads.

A proposed proviso says that the federal government or as the case may be, the provincial government shall not alter the administrative limits of districts, tehsil and urban and rural local areas after expiry of term of the local government.

“Provided that, in case the existing Local Government system is required to be replaced completely with the new local government system or substantially alter during its currency by any Government, then such enactment shall be made by an Act of majlis-i-shoora (parliament) or the provincial assembly as the case may be at least one year prior to the expiry of local government in a province, cantonment, Islamabad Capital Territory, Federally Administered Tribal Areas or a part thereof,” another proviso reads.

“The commission may make provisions for the conduct of local government elections if no provision or insufficient provision has been made under this Act or the Rules,” it added.

Giving justification for the proposed changes, the document pointed out that Article 32 of the Constitution provided that the state shall encourage local government institutions composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned and in such institutions special representations will be given to peasants, workers and women.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2022

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