ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday questioned the abrupt increase in the number of union councils in the federal capital which delayed the local government (LG) elections and resulted in a legal battle between political parties and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz resumed hearing on the appeals filed by the federal government and the ECP against the order of single member bench that directed the commission on Dec 30 to hold the LG elections on Dec 31. The ECP had expressed its inability to hold these elections on the said date due to administrative issues.
During the hearing on the appeals, the division bench observed that the ECP ignored the core issue of making a decision on the UCs’ increase.
“The court has remanded the matter to the ECP to examine sections 4 and 6 of the Elections Act and to make a decision as to whether the number of UCs could have been increased or not,” remarked Justice Farooq, who added that instead of the issue at hand, the Election Commission focused on an entirely different matter.
Chief justice says ECP was required to examine what was exponential growth that resulted in UCs’ increase
ECP’s counsel Mian Abdul Rauf argued that the LG elections could have been held but there was also the issue of direct elections for the seats of mayor and deputy mayor in light of the bill passed by the parliament. As per the existing law, these posts were filled via indirect elections, but the new law changed this to direct elections.
The IHC chief justice remarked that the bill had not become law since the president had not signed it yet. He pointed out that the ECP on Dec 20 rejected the increase and was holding the LG elections as per schedule.
Advocate Rauf said the ECP was ready to hold the elections on Dec 31 but the federal government was unable to provide the commission with logistic support. The court asserted that the ECP was asked to examine the logic behind the increase in UCs.
“The ECP was required to examine what was the exponential growth that led to an increase in the number of UCs. The government increased the number from 50 to 101 and in December it was again increased to 125,” said the chief justice, adding that the ECP did not examine this core issue but deliberated upon insignificant matters.
PTI’s counsel Sardar Taimoor Aslam argued that the ECP was still saying that it was ready to hold elections but the paucity of time did not allow it to conduct polls. He requested the court to issue directions to the commission to hold the LG elections as soon as possible.
Justice Farooq observed that the core issue is the government’s power of increasing the UCs after the announcement of the election schedule and the ECP needed to address this issue first.
Additional Attorney General Amir Rehman was not present in the court to represent the government. The court was told that he was scheduled to appear in some cases before the Supreme Court. Further hearing has been adjourned till Wednesday.
It may be mentioned that the LG elections were scheduled to be held on Dec 31, however, the federal government on Dec 19 increased the union councils from 101 to 125.
The ECP on the very next day rejected this increase and vowed to hold the elections as per the schedule. The federal government filed a petition in the IHC and the court asked the commission to examine the legal aspects after hearing the government’s point of view.
Subsequently, the ECP on Dec 27 postponed the LG elections. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-i-Islami challenged this decision. Justice Arbab Mohammad Tahir allowed the petitions and directed the ECP to hold the elections as per schedule.
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023
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