The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Monday sought a solid reason from the federal government for increasing the number of union councils (UCs) from 101 to 125 for the local government (LG) elections.
A two-member bench, headed by IHC Chief Justice Aamir Farooq, heard the intra-court appeals against its December 30’s decision to hold local body elections in the federal capital on Dec 31.
During the course of the proceedings, the court asked the government to share the minutes of the cabinet meeting and a summary regarding the increase in the number of UCs in Islamabad on January 19.
The court warned that it will order conduct the elections in 101 UCs if the government fails to provide a satisfactory reason
The IHC chief justice said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was ready to conduct polls in 101 UCs and still is.
The court asked what would happen now that elections did not take place.
At this, the lawyer representing a citizen — who approached the court regarding the correction of the voters’ list — said that it was difficult to implement the court’s order in such a short period of time.
“The single bench did not hear us, or the order wouldn’t have been issued,” he said.
The court then asked how this affects those who have challenged the voters’ list.
“Is it not the district election commissioner’s job to see the voter lists?” questioned the court.
At this, the director general of law at the ECP said it is the authority of the district election commissioner to check the voters’ list.
The court said that three days had been given for the correction of voter lists. IHC CJ said that the concerns of the voters will be valid when the single bench’s decision remains intact.
“You have to issue the schedule even if the election has to be held in 101 union councils. The issue of voters will no longer be there if the number of UCs is changed to 125 as per the federal government,” he added.
Justice Farooq further said that the whole process would be repeated once again once the UCs are increased.
As per the single bench, he said, the federal government could not provide a concrete reason for increasing the UCs.
The IHC CJ asked the director-general of law how much time will the ECP take in conducting the polls.
At this, the ECP’s DG law said that they need 10 days if elections are to be held on 101 UCs.
The court adjourned the hearing till January 19.
President Alvi returns bill
On January 1, President Dr Arif Alvi returned the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2022, proposing an increase in the number of UCs unsigned as it was an “anathema to democracy”.
The president returned the bill in terms of clause (1) (b) of Article 75 of the Constitution with the observation that it would “further delay the local government elections”.
The president also said that it was also stated that local government elections were delayed in Islamabad due to “malafide actions” of the federal government.
Tussle over bill
Initially, ECP had initially scheduled the local government polls in Islamabad for July 31 of last year.
However, the IHC directed the electoral body to postpone the polls and carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies.
Once the process was done, ECP announced it would hold the polls on the last day of 2022 — December 31.
But on December 22, 2022, the National Assembly passed the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2022 amid protest from the opposition members and voices on lack of quorum in the House.
The bill had increased the number of UCs in the federal capital from 101 to 125.
The very next day Senate also passed the bill and was pending before the president for ratification, which has now been rejected.
ECP had rejected the bill and announced it would hold the poll as per schedule.
Interestingly, before the bill was ratified by the president it was challenged in the Islamabad High Court by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
IHC, while hearing those pleas, put the ball in ECP’s court asking it to hear all parties before making a decision. It then announced the postponement of the polls.
In response PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) approached the IHC, once again, for the annulment of the ECP decision.
IHC, while hearing those pleas, struck down ECP’s order on December 30 and directed the body to hold local government polls as per schedule on December 31.
As a result, citizens, who came out to cast their votes for local government elections in Islamabad, staged protests after finding all the designated ECP polling stations closed and the staff missing.
Following this development, the federal government and ECP filed a plea against the IHC. While PTI has approached IHC seeking contempt of court proceedings against the Centre and ECP.