The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday rejected the Sindh government’s request to postpone local government elections in Karachi and Hyderabad divisions, and ruled that the polls will be held on Jan 15 as decided earlier.

The decision was taken by the ECP members during a meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja at its headquarters in Islamabad.

In the wee hours of Friday, the provincial government announced that the long awaited local government elections would not be held in Karachi and Hyderabad divisions.

Addressing a hurriedly-called press conference, Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon said the polls in seven districts — Tando Allahyar, Tando Muhammad Khan, Badin, Thatta, Sujawal and Jamshoro — would go ahead as planned on Jan 15.

Memon had also announced that the notification to hold the polls on the basis of the existing delimitation had also been withdrawn on the demand of their ‘coalition partner’, the MQM-P, which had serious reservations with it.

The MQM-P had rejected the delimitation of local government constituencies and, terming them “unjustified”, demanded the withdrawal of the notification issued in this regard.

The electoral watchdog, in its meeting today, reviewed the request sent by the Sindh government but unanimously rejected it and reiterated that the local body polls will go ahead as planned.

The ECP also decided that the Ministry of Interior will be communicated to ensure the presence of Army and Rangers personnel at most sensitive polling stations across the province.

‘Even courts will not allow postponement of polls’

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said that it was highly unlikely that the courts would allow the polls to be postponed.

Speaking to Dawn News English, Mehboob concluded that at this point, “even the court will not allow the election election to be postponed”.

“It is not just the Sindh government. Provincial governments everywhere try to defer local government elections. They find various pretexts to sabotage it — this is exactly what the Sindh government has done.”

“I think the election commission was right to reject the notification of Sindh government because it was issued after the polling schedule was already announced,” he said.

He added that the electoral watchdog had the authority to reject the notification if the Sindh government was issuing it a mere two days before polling day.

JI announces protest claiming PPP, MQM ‘colluded’

Prior to the ECP’s decision, JI’s Karachi chief Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman said his party will hold a protest outside the ECP’s Sindh office in Karachi against the Sindh government’s decision.

Rehman demanded that the ECP reject the letter issued by the Sindh government as “legally, there was no room for the elections to be postponed on its (the letter’s) basis”.

He also demanded that the CEC take suo motu notice of the announcement, adding: “I warn the election commission that the elections shouldn’t be delayed; the decision is in their hands. If he does this (allows the postponement), then we will fight the legal battle but this struggle will also take place on the streets.”

He warned that the party’s sit-in could be at different parts of the city and could be prolonged as well, adding that the “government should not come to us then and ask us to move aside and [expect that] we will follow it”.

Regarding the MQM-P’s demand of delimitation, Rehman argued, “According to the law, once the elections have been announced, the delimitations cannot be changed. […] The high court has given the verdict thrice, the Supreme Court has given the verdict once [and] the election commission itself has also given the verdict.”

Prior to announcing the protest, the JI chief castigated both the PPP and MQM-P for “depriving the people of Karachi of their rights”.

Rehman claimed that the MQM-P had “colluded” with the PPP, who he said was “lying and cheating”. “Both of them are one […] they are scared of the people and do not want elections.”

PTI protest outside Sindh Assembly

Meanwhile, the PTI staged a protest outside the Sindh Assembly. PTI leaders carried placards and chanted slogans against the electoral watchdog’s decision.

Addressing a press conference earlier along with former Sindh governor Imran Ismail, PTI Sindh President Ali Haider Zaidi said, “They (Sindh government) have stopped you once again from bringing your mayor in Karachi.”

He added, “I ask the whole city to reach there. All the MNAs, MPAs of Karachi, all the candidates; I am asking them to reach Sindh Assembly at 4pm.”

In a tweet, he claimed, “The Zardari mafia does not want that this city (Karachi) develops. They are busy just looting our province and its resources.”

Following the ECP’s decision, PTI Sindh Information Secretary Arsalan Taj clarified in a tweet, “We welcome the election commission’s decision. The call to protest is maintained. A protest will be held at 4pm against the conspiracy to stop the elections.”

The second phase of local government elections in Sindh has been postponed twice already.

The term of the local governments had expired on Aug 30, 2020 and the ECP was bound to hold elections within 120 days of this.

The electoral exercise was originally scheduled for July 24 but was postponed due to the unprecedented monsoon rains and flash flooding that inundated large parts of the province.

The ECP later rescheduled the LG polls for Aug 28, but they were deferred again due to the flood situation and a shortage of police personnel in Karachi.

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