PESHAWAR: The Coalition for Elections and Democracy (CED), an umbrella organisation of civil society groups,on Monday voiced concern over the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to suspend local bodies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa even before the announcement of the schedule of the provincial assembly elections.

“We believe that the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan is not in the best interests of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and we call for its immediate reversal,” said CED national coordinator and Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives executive director Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, according to a statement.

He said the ECP should hold free and fair elections without undermining the rights of the people to representation at local levels.

“The suspension of local governments at this time of the year when the budget is prepared and annual planning for the next year taking place is hugely disruptive, and will affect the functioning of local governments not only during the current and next financial years,” he said.

Say ECP move to further weaken LGs

The CED coordinator said the ECP’s move was not in line with the best practices and that it would further weaken the “struggling” local governments in the province.

He demanded of the Election Commission to reconsider its decision and restore local bodies, saying the suspension of local governments is inconsistent with the Constitution and multiple orders of the superior judiciary.

Mr Ali said there was no justification for disrupting the tenure of elected institutions without clear and specific legal grounds, and that the suspension of local governments would have a disruptive effect on the functioning of elected councils, development planning, and the delivery of services.

He said local bodies were established under Article 140-A of the Constitution, so their suspension amounted to suspension of a constitutional provision.

“The ECP, being itself a constitutional body, must exercise extreme caution in deciding about the fate of elected bodies established by or under the Constitution,” he said.

The CED coordinator said it was not a strong and a cogent argument that free and

fair election of a provincial assembly could not be held without suspending local governments.

“By this logic, the federal government should also be suspended, as it too can use the powers and resources at its disposal to influence the outcome of the provincial assembly’s elections. If free and fair local government elections can be held in the presence of provincial governments, why is it not possible the other way around,” he said.

Mr Ali said hardly in any democracy around the world, elected institutions at one tier were suspended to ensure free and fair elections for the other.

He said the ECP had ample powers to ensure the neutrality of local governments without suspending them, so it should enhance its own capacity for oversight and timely interventions to stop any questionable practices.

The CED coordinator said even after the restoration of local bodies, the ECP could ensure free and fair elections for the provincial assembly through neutral conduct, robust monitoring, and timely actions to address concerns or complaints.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2023

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