• Tue. Jan 31st, 2023

Provide ‘realistic’ timeline for Islamabad’s local body elections, IHC tells ECP


Security personnel stand guard outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC). — AFP/File
Security personnel stand guard outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC). — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should provide a “realistic” timeline for holding local body polls — originally scheduled to take place on December 31 — in the capital, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed Thursday.

The IHC issued the order after Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir took up the petition of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) seeking to nullify ECP’s decision to postpone the local body polls.

The ECP clearly told the court that it could not hold elections on December 31 as it required as many as 60 days for the delimitation and also needed time to ensure that all the polling material is distributed.

The judge then told the election commission to provide a timeline as to when it plans on holding the polls. If the court concludes tomorrow that the elections cannot be held, then it will view the timeline.

Not only that, but Justice Tahir also asked the election body to submit the details of the funds utilised so far for the elections as he stressed not allowing the taxpayer’s money to go to waste.

Attorney-General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf Ali — who was summoned for assisting the court with the case — advised recovering the money from the federal cabinet if the elections do not take place on the stipulated time and the printing process has to be done all over again.

After hearing today’s arguments, the hearing was adjourned till December 30 (Friday).

Case hearing

As the hearing for the case took place, the election commission’s director-general informed the court that the body, in line with the law, required 60 days for delimitation.

“Will you be able to hold elections after 60 days, then? Also, what were the things on which the election commission spent funds?” the court inquired.

The ECP’s DG told the court that the funds had been spent on the printing of ballot papers, among other things required for elections.

“Until now, millions of rupees have been spent then, and we will not allow the nation’s tax money to be wasted,” Justice Tahir stressed.

In response, the DG said during yesterday’s hearing, the court was informed that nearly Rs500 million-Rs600 million were spent, however, those facts are untrue. “It will take ECP Rs150 million-160 million to hold the elections.”

The court then asked the DG to submit, in writing, the details of the expenses incurred so far.

Then, Attorney-General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf told Justice Tahir that he agreed that the nation’s money should not go to waste. “We also ensure that the taxpayer’s money does not go to waster in our office.”

The AG then suggested to the court that to recover the money being wasted from cabinet members as the ECP has decided to delay the elections.

In response, Justice Tahir asked whether the election commission could review its decision to postpone the polls. In response, the ECP’s DG told the court that it wasn’t possible as the election material could not be dispatched before December 31.

Justice Tahir inquired whether the ECP was violating its promise to the court made on December 27 that it would hold polls later on. But the ECP told the court that it had made a conditional promise.

The court then asked the ECP if it was ready to hold the polls, then why isn’t it following through on it? The director-general informed Justice Tahir that dispatching polling material to the polling stations takes time.

“You just have to send the polling material within the limits of Islamabad, how much time can that take?” the court wondered. But the ECP’s DG reiterated that given the new conditions, the commission cannot hold elections on December 31.

Then, the court asked AG Ausaf to hold a meeting with the federal government and take their advice on the matter.

Also, the court asked the ECP to give it a “realistic” timeline for holding elections and not inform the court that it could only hold polls in June next year.

“If we agree to not hold polls on December 31 tomorrow, then we will see what your timeline is,” the court said, adjourning the hearing.

Petition

PTI leader Ali Nawaz Awan and Jamaat-e-Islami moved the IHC earlier in the day, seeking to nullify and set aside the ECP’s decision to postpone the local government elections in Islamabad.

Nawaz stated that the order is “violative of Article 75 (3) of the Constitution”.

It also requested to “set aside the Notification of increase of Union Councils dated 19-12-2022 (having been issued post announcement of Election Schedule and merely 11 days before the election date, i.e. 31-12-2022).”

The petitioner made the cabinet secretary, the interior secretary and the Election Commission of Pakistan parties to the petition.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, Metropolitan Corporation and District Election Commission were also made parties to the petition.

The contention

Just as the local body polls were about to take place on December 31, the federal government had earlier this month approved a summary to increase the number of union councils of the federal capital from existing 101 to 125.

The summary stated that the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad administrator — deputy commissioner — has said that the present number of union councils is 101 as fixed based on 2017 census.

However, the population of Islamabad increased to 205 million in the last five years and, therefore, it is appropriate that the number of union councils may be enhanced to 125, it claimed.

It stated that Section 4 (1) and 6 (1) of the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Act, 2015 authorises the federal government to determine the number of union councils within Islamabad through notification published in the official gazette.

But after that, the election commission issued an order to continue the process of holding local government elections in the federal capital, saying that the union councils were increased in violation of the related law.

In its two-page order, the ECP said the government took the measure without the concurrence of the election commission, which was required under Section 4 (4) of the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Act 2015.

The ECP said in its order that now, the commission in the exercise of its powers under Article 140-A(2), Article 218(3), Article 219(d), and Article 220 of the Constitution read with enabling provisions of law, hereby, decided to continue the election process on the stipulated date.

Following the ECP’s order, the government passed the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and also had it passed in the Senate — but is not yet been signed by the president.

Then, the IHC struck down the ECP’s order to continue with the polls and asked the election body to hold a hearing and invite all the parties in the case to hear them out.

Following the hearing on Tuesday, the ECP decided to delay the polls. But then, the PTI and JI approached the court against it.



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