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— File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked the Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday if it could hold local government elections in cantonment boards when the general election was already due in the country.

“Notice to the ECP to submit whether it could be possible for the commission to hold local government (LG) elections when the general election is also due in the country,” the court said in its order.

The commission is required to submit a reply in two weeks.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed had taken up a 2009 petition of Raja Rab Nawaz from Quetta challenging absence of local governments in different cantonment boards.

The order was issued after the defence ministry filed an undertaking stating that it had already submitted a summary to the prime minister under Section 14 (1b) of the Local Government Ordinance 2002 for approval.

The ministry’s legal director Commander Shahbaz Hussain informed the bench that the summary had not requested the prime minister for further extension of the tenure of the current set-up because he had already granted a one-year extension to 31 cantonment boards which would expire on May 5 next year.

Soon after getting permission from the prime minister, he said, the ECP would be requested to make necessary arrangements for elections in the cantonment boards.

Under rules, he explained, the defence ministry could not address the Election Commission directly. It has to submit a summary through the federal government which recommends to the commission for holding LG elections in the cantonment areas.

But the court was not impressed by the explanation and sought justification for giving extension to the current set-up in cantonment boards. It recalled that the last elections in the boards were held in October 1998.

“When living in the cantonment boards, civilians will have to be ruled under the civilian laws,” the chief justice observed and asked why this constitutional requirement had not been met for so many years.

“We are here to follow the Constitution and the law; individuals should not consider themselves above the law,” the chief justice said and cautioned that the court was not inclined to give any leverage or show latitude since it concerned with the upholding of the Constitution and the democratic system.

“When elected, people’s representatives will do the job assigned to them by the law,” the court observed.

Commander Shahbaz argued that the reasons prevalent in October 1999 still existed in the cantonment boards for not holding the elections for the time being.

“We were of the opinion that you would prefer not to open Pandora’s Box,” Justice Saeed said, adding that when the British army could act under the civilian rules then “why you should not”.

“We feel no hesitation in holding elections the moment approval is accorded by the prime minister,” Commander Shahbaz said, adding that the only justification for not making arrangements for the elections was desirability of the federal government to continue with the present set-up.