The Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2022, that proposed an increase in the number of union councils (UCs) in the federal capital was returned unsigned by President Arif Alvi on Sunday, who termed it “anathema to democracy”.
The president returned the bill in terms of clause (1) (b) of Article 75 of the Constitution, while observing that the increase in UCs would “further delay the local government elections” in the federal capital.
On December 27, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) postponed the LG polls — scheduled to take place on December 31, 2022, in Islamabad, after a change in the union councils of the capital territory.
“Actions of the federal government taken in hurry resulted in delaying election process twice, which was anathema to democracy,” The president of Pakistan said in a tweet today.
Alvi also said that it was also stated that local government elections were delayed in Islamabad due to “malafide actions” of the federal government.
The president noted that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had announced the local elections for July 31 of last year after completing the delimitation of 50 UCs. He noted that the polling day had to be delayed as the federal government increased the number of UCs from 50 to 101.
Dr Alvi noted that once the demarcation was done and ECP had announced polls for December 31 the current bill changed the number of UCs to 125 which led to another postponement. He also noted that the mode of elections of the mayor and deputy mayor was also changed via the bill after the announcement of the election schedule.
Tussle over the bill
Initially, ECP had initially scheduled the local government polls in Islamabad for July 31 of last year.
However, the Islamabad High Court directed ECP 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 a day earlier. While PTI has approached IHC seeking contempt of court proceedings against the Centre and ECP.
The pleas are expected to be heard next week.