PESHAWAR: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday announced the postponement of elections for presiding officers of 131 city and tehsil councils in the province after the Peshawar High Court issued a stay order against the electoral exercise slated to be held today (Wednesday).
“Pursuant to the order of the Peshawar High Court on a petition, the Election Commission of Pakistan held in abeyance its notification issued on Jan 6, 2023, for holding elections of presiding officers of 131 tehsil/city councils in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa till final disposal of the petition,” read a notification by ECP deputy director (local government elections KP) Naveedur Rehman.
While ordering “status quo” on the elections for key tehsil council slots until further orders, a bench consisting of Justice Ijaz Anwar and Justice Shakeel Ahmad issued notices to the provincial chief secretary and local government secretary seeking their written response to a petition of the presiding officers of 13 city and tehsil councils against polls for their offices.
The court ordered status quo on the issue until further orders.
The petitioners requested the court to issue directives to the respondents, including the provincial government, to apply the KP Local Government (Amendment) Act, 2022, under which the ECP had issued schedule for the impugned elections, prospectively after the 2024 local body elections.
Court seeks govt response to plea against presiding officers’ elections
They also sought orders for the respondents against holding the presiding officer elections on Jan 25.
The petition was filed by presiding officer of the Mardan City Local Council Babar Khan and 12 other presiding officers, who are also the chairmen of their respective neighbourhood and village councils.
Additional advocate general Syed Sikandar Hayat Shah, who was present in the court, accepted the notice on behalf of the respondents and sought time for producing a report on the matter.
The next date of hearing will be announced later.
Lawyer Babar Khan Yousafzai appeared for the petitioners and said his clients were the elected chairmen of their respective neighbourhood and village council and that they, by virtue of those posts, were also members of the respective city and tehsil councils.
He added that the petitioners were nominated as the presiding officers on different dates by the respective chairmen and mayors of the city and tehsil councils under Section 23A (1)(q) of the KP Local Government Act.
The counsel said under the said provision, the city and tehsil council was empowered to nominate one of its members as the presiding officer.
He added that ever since their appointment, presiding officers had been chairing all sessions of their councils.
Mr Yousafzai contended that the provincial government made changes in the local government law through the KP Local Government (Amendment) Act, 2022, and the powers of the council’s chairman and mayor to nominate the presiding officer were removed by making changes to Section 23-A of the Act.
He argued that changes to the Local Government Act had been challenged in the high court, but in the meantime, changes were made to the Local Councils (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 2021, for the appointment of presiding officers through internal election of a city and tehsil council.
The lawyer said those rules declared that in the first meeting of the tehsil council after an election or whenever the office of presiding officer fell vacant for any reason, one of the members of the council commanding the confidence of the majority of the members should be appointed as the presiding officer.
He said the ECP had issued a notification on Jan 6 for holding an election for presiding officers in light of the Jan 25 amendments to rules.
“Those changes to rules can’t be given retrospective effect and such amendments should run prospectively after the next local body elections are held in 2024. The rules of business can’t prevail over the provisions of the Local Government Act,” he said.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2023