ISLAMABAD - TERENCE J SIGAMONY/sikander shaheen - The Local Government elections in Punjab and Sindh have been postponed for an indefinite period, as the Supreme Court has allowed the Election Commission of Pakistan to issue a new schedule for the two provinces.
The court, on Monday, permitted the election commission to issue a new schedule for local government elections in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, the cantonments as well as Islamabad Capital Territory.
Initially, elections were to be held on November 27 in Sindh, and December 7 in Punjab. However, with the permission of the court, the dates were then extended until January 18 for Sindh, January 30 for Punjab. Also, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and cantonments had to go to polls in February.
Later on January 8, the commission, for the third time, proposed new election dates — February 23 for Sindh and March 13 for Punjab. ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed sought to extend the timetable on request from the Printing Corporation of Pakistan and the Pakistan Security Printing Corporation, telling the court LG polls in Sindh on January 18 and in Punjab on January 30 appeared to be impossible.
During Monday’s proceedings, ECP secretary Ishtiaq submitted that after the verdicts of the Sindh High Court and Lahore High Court the Punjab Local Government Act, 2013, and the Sindh Government Act, 2013, had to be amended by the respective provinces and fresh delimitations had to be carried out in the light of the court rulings.
He also cited problems of ballot paper printing and magnetic ink as the reason behind the delay, and said it was difficult to hold local government elections in both the provinces on old polling dates.
Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, who was heading the three-judge bench, remarked that the election commission itself had proposed dates of January 18 and 30 for conduct of LG polls in Sindh and Punjab. When the court inquired of the ECP secretary as to what would be the situation of local government elections in cantonments and Islamabad Capital Territory, the secretary replied elections there would be also held along with Sindh and Punjab.
The additional attorney general said after the rulings of the Sindh and Lahore high courts it was not possible for the respective governments to hold elections in their provinces. He said command of the Constitution would only be fulfilled if elections were held in a transparent manner. There would be no transparency if elections were carried out on old dates, he added.
He prayed that the ECP be allowed to suspend the existing schedule and announce a new one so it could hold elections in a transparent manner.
The court, while allowing the commission to issue new schedule for local bodies polls in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, adjourned the case for the first week of February. Balochistan conducted the elections on Dec 7 and the date for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has not yet been decided.
The commission, meanwhile, in two notifications issued by Additional Secretary Sher Afgan, said it was ‘pleased’ to recall LG elections schedule for Punjab and Sindh in pursuance of Supreme Court’s Monday order and fresh LG polls schedules would be issued after taking necessary steps and completion of pre-requisites in a due course of time.
A source in ECPs’ elections branch meanwhile said LG polls in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and cantonments were not likely before March. “If the provincial governments show seriousness and amend the LG rules as well as conduct the delimitations in the light of the SC and high courts rulings, only then can the LG polls be held in Sindh and Punjab in March,” the official said. The polls in KPK were very much expected by March, whereas, he said, the decision on LG polls in CBs would be taken once the SC issued its decision in a related case.
Former ECP secretary Kunwar Dilshad repeatedly slammed the ECP for ‘hoodwinking’ the public and political parties on LG elections issue. He also questioned why the ECP modified LG polls schedule for Sindh and Punjab when the matter was pending with the Supreme Court.
Monitoring adds: After the hearing, ECP Secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed said that Sindh and Punjab have to amend their local government laws after which fresh delimitation would be carried out in the two provinces, according to a media report.
Ahmed added that a new schedule would only be issued after the rules in the two provinces were amended and delimitation was carried out anew.