PTI leader Ali Nawaz Awan has filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) seeking contempt proceedings against the Elections Commission of Pakistan (ECP) over its failure to hold local government elections in the city on Saturday.
A day earlier, after a whirlwind of court proceedings, the IHC had instructed the ECP to hold Islamabad local government elections today (Dec 31).
The verdict, which was pronounced by IHC Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir on petitions filed by PTI and Jamaat-i-Islami, quashed the electoral body’s notification regarding the postponement of the polls.
In response to the development, an ECP official had told Dawn that it was “practically impossible” to hold an electoral exercise, even within Islamabad alone, on such short notice. Separately, the federal government had decided to file an intra-court appeal against the verdict.
On Saturday morning, Dawn.com learnt that the government and ECP have filed intra-court petitions against the verdict but their pleas have not yet been fixed for hearing.
Meanwhile, the PTI complained that voters had gathered outside polling stations in the city but the election staff was missing.
Subsequently, PTI’s Awan submitted a petition in court, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, saying that the electoral body “deliberately disobeyed” the directions of the court.
“The respondents [ECP] should be convicted and sentenced in an exemplary manner, in the interest to maintain the sanctity of judgments and honourable courts,” it prayed.
Earlier, party chairman Imran Khan, in a tweet, said that by not implementing the IHC orders, the ECP had proven that it was a “B team of the imported government and its backers”.
“PDM, fearful of the people, is running away from all elections. The right to vote is a fundamental democratic norm and PTI stands committed to it,” he said.
Separately, in a video message earlier today, PTI General Secretary Asad Umar said his party’s teams were present outside polling stations since morning but no one from the electoral body showed up.
“This imported government is scared of people […] they run away whenever elections are held […] they make excuses,” he claimed, demanding why the ECP’s preparations were not complete.
“We want the court to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the election commission and throw them out,” Umar added.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry also urged the IHC to take action against the ECP.
“This government, along with its puppet election commission, is making a joke of the nation and the Constitution,” he tweeted.
On the other hand, former human rights minister Shireen Mazari said the ECP should immediately resign after “playing politics with holding elections”.
Awan, while taking to the media outside a polling station, accused Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja of “trampling” the high court’s decision.
“We expect Sikandar Sultan will be punished for this […] he takes salaries worth millions and if he can’t even hold elections, then he should not remain in his seat,” he said.
Federal govt files intra-court appeal
Meanwhile, PML-N leader Tariq Fazal Chaudhry has said that the federal government’s legal team arrived at the IHC earlier today and filed an intra-court appeal against yesterday’s verdict.
Talking to reporters in Islamabad, he said that the government respected court orders but it was not possible to hold local government elections in a day.
“We will follow whatever the next ruling of the court turns out to be,” Chaudhry added.
The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that IHC’s verdict was “tenable on legal as well as a factual aspect” because it was not passed on “ground realities”.
“The honourable has not appreciated that holding the election of local government on the scheduled date i.e. Dec 31 was practically not possible as the judgement was announced at about 5pm on Dec 30 and elections were ordered to be held the next day.”
The petition stated that the judge, while passing the orders, had overlooked a number of factual and legal objections raised on behalf of the appellants.
It pointed out that the order had failed to appreciate that the ECP was a constitutional body and “should not be treated like an executive body by issuing directions”.
“The impugned order dated Dec 30 is a result of misinterpretation, misconstruction and misapplication of laws and facts.”
In the petition, the federal government also assured the court that along with the ECP, it will hold the polls in the “due period of time” and requested that yesterday’s order should be “set aside”.
Petition filed by ECP
The election commission, on the other hand, listed a number of reasons in its petition why the polls were not possible today.
- The ballot papers are lying in the printing press of the Pakistan Press and are required to be transported to the office of 14 returning officers (RO) at different locations.
- The activities scheduled to be conducted from Dec 23 to Dec 31 could not be completed.
- The ROs are required to bulk-brake 5.2 million ballot papers of six different categories and prepare packing invoices for each polling station mentioning the serial number of ballot papers, the code number of official mark stamps and other material.
- The ROs are required to establish counters for the distribution of election material under proper security and a day is utilised for this.
- More than thousands of vehicles are required to be arranged for the transportation of polling personnel and material.
- A security plan is required to be synchronised with the transportation plan.
- More than 14,000 polling personnel are appointed to perform duties at 1,039 polling stations and 3,088 polling booths. After the postponement, the entire staff was to be recognised.
- Being a metropolitan city, the employees belong to all provinces. Due to the postponement and winter vacations, they returned to their native towns and require a minimum of 24 hours to return to their polling stations.
- The main reason for the deployment of the same staff is that they have been properly trained by the commission and it would be a risk to deploy untrained staff.
- The local administration was required to install CCTV at highly sensitive polling stations which was to be done one day before the elections. However, due to the postponement, all went into abeyance.
The elections were earlier scheduled to be held on Dec 31. However, the federal government, earlier this month, increased the number of union councils (UCs) — from 101 to 125 — in the capital, effectively putting off the elections.
Following the decision, the ECP postponed the polls as they couldn’t have been held without fresh delimitations.
On Friday, the IHC not only quashed the federal government’s decision but also the subsequent ECP notification to postpone the polls. Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir also directed the federal government to facilitate the ECP in holding the polls.
In a detailed verdict issued today, the court said: “The Federal Government was aware of the schedule issued for the conduct of local bodies elections issued by the ECP.
“However, at fag end, issued the notification dated 19.12.2022 based on unconfirmed statistics/information provided by the Administrator MCI, in haste without realizing that elections are going to be held after twelve days.”
It pointed out that the federal government’s conduct over the matter was in conflict with the law, adding that the matter of holding elections lay with the ECP as per the Constitution.
“The Courts are under obligation to enforce the constitutional safeguards and preserve and protect the institutional imperatives of the ECP unless there is a case involving illegality or injury to the public interest. If the Provincial Government or the Federal Government overstepped its legislative or executive authority to make the local government powerless, such exercise would fall foul of Article 140A of the Constitution and liable to be struck down by the Court,” the IHC maintained.
Hence, it added, the ECP notification was not legally sustainable and was liable to be set aside.
The polls were expected to take place as per the announced schedule before the federal cabinet, on Dec 19, approved a summary to increase the number of UCs, leaving both the candidates and the ECP surprised.
Later, the government frantically passed the bill in a hurriedly called session of the National Assembly on Dec 22.