ISLAMABAD - Former Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Kanwar Dilshad has urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to exercise his authority to strengthen democracy in the cantonment boards (CBs) by immediately holding free and fair elections in the CBs and significantly increasing the share of elected representation in their nomenclature.
He was sharing views regarding unusual delay in the conduct of local government elections in the CBs due to the apparently instrumental role of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) headed by Secretary Defence Lt Gen (r) Asif Yasin Malik.
“PM is the chief executive of this country. It’s his duty to take a strong exception to delay in LG polls and take to task those elements who are behind this criminal negligence. They must not be spared,” said Dilshad while talking to The Nation.
Dilshad’s comments came against the backdrop of the stalled LG polls in CBs in clear violation of the Supreme Court’s directives. Holding secretary defence responsible for this prolonged delay, the SC has initiated contempt proceedings against him, with charges to be framed on the coming Monday. If convicted, the secretary is to spend six months in jail or pay a fine of 100,000 rupees, or both, in addition to losing his job.
“The secretary is a public servant who reports to the PM, and not to forget that the present PM has the portfolio of defence minister. Had the PM exercised his authority, would a public servant have dared to become a hindrance in the revival of democratic process in the CBs? Due to the premier’s inability, the SC had to intervene and take to task the real culprit.”
The former secretary ECP suggested that certain key amendments in the Cantonment Act 1924 were crucial for practising democracy in the cantonment localities in letter and spirit. “Without bringing an end to the sweeping powers given to an army officer who acts as station commander to rule over the elected representatives in the CBs, the LG polls in the CBs would be just an eyewash. This would tantamount to hoodwinking the general public.”
Dilshad also pointed out to what he termed as ‘undemocratic nature’ of the LG system in Punjab, suggesting that it too required amendments the way Cantonment Act 1924 requires. “It’s a crying shame that military is not ready to give up its powers in the CBs whereas Punjab and Federal Governments want to wield maximum powers in Punjab. The Punjab’s LG system based on non-party based polls is the replica of Election Laws 1911 that were introduced during the British rule to suppress the public’s voice.”
In connection with the LG polls in the CBs, PM Nawaz Sharif has formed a 12-member committee for amendments in the in the Cantonments Ordinance 2002, in order to promulgate Cantonments (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, necessary for holding the LG polls in the CBs. The committee has recommended abolishing the discretionary powers given to the station commander in his capacity as president CB. The committee has also proposed increasing the number of elected representatives in the CBs and has sought the input of the military’s Garrison Services headed by General Headquarters (GHQ), which has not sent its recommendations thus causing to linger the matter. The amended draft is yet to be put up before the PM for his approval.
“In the first place, the GHQ should wake up to the SC directives and share its input on amending the Cantonments Ordinance 2002 without wasting a second. If this doesn’t happen, the PM should intervene and approve the related summary and honour the SC ruling,” said Kanwar Dilshad.
He said that amendments in this ordinance were essential to avoid 1985-like situation whereby General Zia-ul-Haq had conducted the controversial non-party based elections. “Those polls were held under the military’s umbrella and were the worst ever polls in Pakistan’s history. Some of those candidates who had won the polls were disqualified after being dubbed as ‘security risk.’ What could be worse than that?”
Quoting an instance, Dilshad said, a popular local leader from Lal Kurti, Shaikh Abdul Hameed had won the poll from the CB Rawalpindi in 1985 but Zia-led security establishment disqualified him after stigmatising Hameed as ‘security risk.’ More than a hundred candidates, who were accused of having political affiliations, were not even allowed to contest the 1985 LG elections, the ex-ECP boss recalled.
In his request to the PM, Kanwar Dilshad said, “Mr PM, do you want to allow those dictatorial practices take the course again or you want to let the democracy flourish in the cantonments? It is your legal, moral, ethical and official responsibility to approve amendments in the Cantonments Ordinance 2002 and promulgate a fresh ordinance to hold the LG polls in the CBs immediately. I hope you will consider my request.”
The LG polls in the CBs were last held in 1998. On July 2, this year, the secretary defence had affirmed in writing before a three-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to hold LG elections in the 53 cantonments of Pakistan by September 15, a deadline that was never met.
In September, the secretary again made a commitment before the SC to hold the cantonment polls in November’s first week. The secretary had misinformed the SC and ECP that PM had signed the Cantonments (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, a statement that stands far from reality.