LAHORE - Violation of the Constitution is regarded as a serious matter in Pakistan, and the apex court takes cognizance of it very often. Three provincial governments – Punjab, Sindh and KPK – are in breach of Article 140-A (1) of the Constitution that binds them to establish local government system to devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility to the elected representatives.
Under Article 7 of the Constitution, local governments have been recognised as the third tier of the state and equally placed along with the federal government and the provincial governments.
The 4-year term of local governments expired in August 2009, but new governments have not been put in place; what appears to be a blatant violation of the Constitution. In this context, the provincial government of Balochistan is an exception as it held local polls in December last year in line with directions of the Supreme Court. Though the KPK government has given a tentative time frame of April this year to complete the electoral process, but nothing is certain as yet.
Since no political party in power in the three provinces wants to share administrative and financial authority with the new governments in the districts, they have skilfully generated a controversy to avoid the elections for long. This controversy revolves around two basic issues which needed to be settled first before conduct of the local polls.
The first one pertains to clear-cut directions from the court about which authority should carryout the delimitations: the provincial government or the Election Commission. The second one relates to determination of legal position to ascertain whether the elections should be held on party or non-party basis.
As far the issue of delimitations of LG constituencies, it had always been a provincial subject given history of statutory law in this matter.
During the hearing of a petition in the Lahore High Court challenging provincial government’s authority to carryout the delimitations, the Punjab government through its counsel had contended that the only law providing the framework for delimitation was the Punjab Local Government Act, 2013 (PLGA). The Lahore High Court in its judgment on November 7, 2013, accepted this plea and decided in favour of the provincial government. It also ruled that local elections should be held on party basis.
The opposition parties, however, challenged the decision through an intra-court appeal and a larger bench of the Lahore High Court declared unlawful the delimitation of constituencies by the provincial government in its judgment passed on December 31. The court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to formulate new regulations for delimitations.
The ECP, in turn, challenged the LHC verdict in the Supreme Court which is yet to deliver a verdict on the matter.
Punjab Minister for Law and Local Government, Rana Sanaullah blamed the opposition parties for the delay in holding of the local elections. “It is they who took the issue of delimitations to the court and now the government is awaiting a decision by the honourable court,” the law minister told Punjab Assembly in its last session.
All the opposition parties in Punjab wanted the delimitation process to be carried out by some neutral body for fair conduct of polls. The issue of delimitation also exists in Sindh which is yet to be settled by the court. No such issue arose in Balochistan as the provincial government there held party-based elections on the existing delimitations.
Under the given situation, the question arises who is to be blamed for the delay in holding of local bodies’ elections, and the consequent violation of the Constitution: the provincial governments, Election Commission or Judiciary. May be the Supreme Court of Pakistan, being custodian of the Constitution, has the answer.