ISLAMABAD - Apparently misinformed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on factual position regarding the conduct of local government elections in the cantonment boards, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has cautioned that it would not be able to hold cantonment polls this November after having learnt that the prime minister had not approved a related summary.
The fresh development follows an official correspondence on Wednesday between ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan and Attorney General of Pakistan Munir A Malik.
Seemingly, the commission was misinformed by the MoD on Tuesday that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had approved the summary of the draft seeking amendments in the Cantonment Ordinance 2002 in line with Article 140 A of the constitution and sent it to President Mamnoon Hussain, which, the ministry said, was likely to be promulgated shortly.
A letter sent to the AGP by the ECP secretary stated that after having learnt from the cantonment authorities on Wednesday that the PM had granted no such approval and had formed a 12-member committee instead to review the draft amendments, any further delay in the promulgation of the ordinance would be in violation of the judgment of the Supreme Court and the commission would not be able to hold the elections by the first week of November.
According to the letter, the MoD, realising that the defence secretary had made a commitment before the SC that the elections in the CBs would be completed by September 15, 2013, has already moved the AGP office to seek extension of time from the apex court.
Held to review progress on the CBs elections, the ECP in a top level meeting chaired by the Acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Tuesday had decided to hold the cantonment elections on November 3 after being informed by Defence Secretary Lieutenant General (r) Asif Yasin Malik that the Cantonment (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which would be amended form of Cantonment Ordinance 2002, has been approved by the PM and it would be promulgated in the next few days after it is signed by the president.
Upon hearing this, the ECP had directed the defence secretary to move a civil miscellaneous application (CMA) for extension in time for holding the elections in 42 CBs in the first week of November.
Both the Defence Secretary and Military Lands and Cantonments (ML&Cs) DG Major General Mazhar Saleem had a tough time at the hands of the Acting CEC in the Tuesday meeting who categorically shared his reservations over the ministry’s role in delaying the LG elections in the CBs. “This is extremely unfortunate that SC-ordered deadline is being missed because adequate arrangements were not made beforehand. Steps shall be taken to hold these elections at the earliest,” Justice Tassaduq Jillani had directly addressed Asif Yasin and Mazhar Saleem.
This correspondent called the defence secretary on Wednesday at his office and residential numbers for his version on the issue but he was not available for comments.
Requesting anonymity, an electoral official said he was “extremely surprised to see how could someone holding such a responsible position as secretary defence misguide a revered constitutional body in an exhibition of sheer lack of knowledge about the ground realities or in a pre-meditated manner that may serve certain motives.”
Ishtiak Khan in Wednesday’s letter stated that he was directly writing to the AGP on account of the absence of law minister. “Since there is no law minister, I have been desired by the honourable commission to bring this matter to your notice so that the honourable prime minister and the committee formed to consider the draft amending ordinance is apprised of this aspect,” the letter stated.
The ECP has repeatedly contended that it has completed all the preparatory arrangements for LG polls in the CBs but the MoD is yet to play its part in this regard.
On July 2 this year, Defence Secretary Asif Yasin had committed 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.
However, only recently has the MoD sent a summary to the Ministry of Law and Justice for the promulgation of Cantonment (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013.
Moreover, the MoD has shown willingness to have the LG polls conducted in only 42 CBs of the total 53. “This kind of attitude really creates suspicions if the defence ministry is really serious in having the cantonment polls held,” the electoral official commented.