ISLAMABAD: Taking advantage of President Dr Arif Alvi’s act of sending back the controversial Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Amendment Bill 2022 for review, the joint sitting of the parliament on Wednesday removed the provision of direct elections of mayor and deputy mayors in the capital.
The bill with amendment was presented by PML-N Senator Rana Maqbool Ahmad in a joint sitting, which was approved.
Under the new amendment, elections of mayor and deputy mayor will be held indirectly, instead of direct, as mentioned in an earlier passed bill, which was referred by President Alvi for review.
While presenting the bill, Mr Maqbool said the amendment was meant to hold elections on the previous pattern of 2015. “The same pattern is adapted in interest of smooth sailing in the democratic handling of Islamabad,” he said.
Amended bill approved during joint sitting; law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar says direct elections to benefit the rich and elite
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the government supported the said amendment, adding that it had been examined that if there would be direct elections of mayor and deputy mayors, the rich and elite would be the real beneficiaries.
Secondly, he said Islamabad was a city of 2.5 million people and conducting direct elections will also be a costly exercise as compared to indirect elections.
It is relevant to note here that on Jan 1 this year, President Arif Alvi had refused to sign the said controversial bill through which the government had increased the number of union councils (UCs) from 101 to 125 and holding elections for mayors directly.
After refusal by Dr Alvi, the government got the said bill passed from a joint sitting of the parliament, with an amendment removing the clause regarding direct elections.
Now, this bill will be sent to President Alvi for sign and in case, he will not sign it, then too, after 10-days, this bill will become an act of Parliament. Officials said that after 10 days, there will be need for new delimitation of UCs, as earlier, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had conducted delimitation of 101 UCs for the Dec 31 elections, which surprisingly had been postponed at the last minute.
The opposition PTI had claimed that elections were postponed to avoid defeat of PML-N, but the government said that there is need to make amendments in the Local Government Act 2015 to increase numbers of UCs from 101 to 125.
Later, Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Dec 30, ordered for holding of elections as per schedule on Dec 31, but the ECP did not comply with this.
The tenure of the last local government elections ended in February 2021 and ECP was bound to hold elections within 90 days. However, no serious step was taken by the government in this regard.
Finally, the ECP had issued an election schedule for holding of elections on June 31 on the pattern of the 2015 elections which were held in 50 UCs, but the government had pleaded before the court that the numbers of UCs should be increased from existing 50 to 101.
To this, the court directed the ECP to do a fresh delimitation to increase the number of UCs. Due to this development, the elections of July 31 could not be held.
Then, after conducting new exercise of delimitation, the ECP decided to hold elections in 101 UCs, but here again at the eleventh hour, the government came up with a new proposal, stating that instead of 101 UCs, the number of UCs should be 125.
This proposal came to the surface when the contesting candidates were in final rounds of their campaign.
The matter had gone to IHC, which decided the matter just one day before elections, directed the ECP to hold elections but they were still not held. Officials said that after this new bill, new delimitation is required, which takes several months in completion and once delimitation process was completed, the ECP will have to issue a new schedule for elections.
“Frankly speaking, there is no chance in sight of holding local government elections anytime soon. Apparently, this government is not serious in holding elections as it got elections postponed twice (July and December). But I am still happy that at least now we have an amended local government bill,” said an official.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023
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