Tuesday, November 15, 2022
KARACHI: A five-member Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) bench Tuesday reserved its ruling on the case of repeated postponement of local bodies elections in Karachi.
The bench was headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja.
Last week, Sindh High Court (SHC) censured the ECP for sitting on the local bodies elections in Karachi, warning them against further delay. The court voiced its displeasure over the holdup during the hearing of the petitions submitted by PTI and JI.
PPP’s Murtaza Wahab, JI’s Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, and MQM's Waseem Akhtar were present during the hearing. IG Sindh, Chief Secretary Sindh, and secretary local government department also appeared before the election commission.
Special Secretary Election Commission Zafar Iqbal informed the commission that municipal elections were postponed because of the rains.
“However, the provincial government of Sindh has approved the postponement of local body elections for [another] 90 days,” Iqbal said.
He said in light of the Supreme Court’s orders local bodies’ elections should be held at the earliest.
“Delay in the local bodies polls is a violation of the top court’s order,” the secretary said adding,” The ECP is ready to hold elections in Karachi”.
The ECP secretary asked the Ministry of Interior about the position of Frontier Corps (FC) and Pakistan Rangers for the provision of security and maintenance of law-and-order situation during the local government polls.
The interior official said the bulk of the security forces was still busy providing security in the flood-affected areas of Sindh.
“We are not in a position to fulfil the security needs of the local government elections,” the official said. "The situation does not allow us to deploy civil armed forces for the security of these elections”.
Moving on, Karachi Administrator and Government of Sindh's spokesperson, Murtaza Wahab, said that the second phase of elections was postponed twice due to rain and flood. He added that 25% to 30% of "Sindh is underwater".
"It is not possible to provide security forces and administrative staff for the elections in Karachi. "About 1,300 polling stations in Karachi are sensitive, and every station requires eight officials," said Wahab.
"Are you not in a position to provide security?" questioned CEC Raja, saying that the election commission and CEC have the authority to provide a date for the local body elections.
Wahab expressed his concern regarding the security issues, to which Raja said that the polls should be held within 120 days. He added that the LG polls would also take place in Punjab.
The administrator said the Sindh government conducted the elections in the first phase with mutual understanding, adding that it does not want anyone to raise questions this time.
Wahab said that the Sindh government has approved postponing the elections till 90 days. At this, ECP's member asked how can the Sindh cabinet use the commission's authority.
"As per the law, it is the Sindh government's authority to announce local body elections," said Wahab, adding that the provincial government will announce the elections after consulting with the ECP.
The commissioner asked Sindh to meet the security shortfall by asking Punjab to provide police to the province.
"We want to conduct local government elections that the political parties and the people call it transparent," he added while seeking more time.
He continued to say that the flood victims require security as well, to which, the commissioner said that the ECP will ensure the security of the voters.
During the hearing, the former mayor of Karachi Waseem Akhtar said that LG elections have not been held in Sindh for two years.
Akhtar said that his party had concerns over the census and that there was a dispute over the delimitation of constituencies. “The party wants that elections should be held in light of the Supreme Court's decision and after the improvement of constituencies,” Akhtar said.
The MQM-P leader said that the elections had been postponed so many times that some candidates passed away, some changed parties, and some withdrew from the polls.
PTI lawyer Shahab Imam said a date should be announced for local bodies elections in Karachi.
“Sindh government does not want to transfer powers to local governments,” PTI’s counsel said and asserted that Sindh Cabinet did not have the authority to postpone Karachi local polls for 90 days.”
Advocate Shahab alleged that one of the reasons behind the repeated deferment of municipality polls was the PPP-led government’s disinclination towards extending funds to the local governments.
He said legislation should be made on issues related to local body elections first so that the local government could be empowered.
“We agree with MQM that local governments should get powers,” the PTI lawyer said.
“If the legislation is not made, then the mayor of Karachi will be powerless as Waseem Akhtar was,” the PTI lawyer said.
Advocate Shahab said after sending 6,000 police personnel to Islamabad they (Sindh government) were now raising concerns about the law-and-order situation in Karachi.
“Sindh government sent police personnel to Islamabad to stop the PTI’s sit-in,” PTI counsel said.
To this, the chief election commissioner asked the PTI lawyer: "Did you want the 6,000 police to be sent back to Karachi?"
“The Sindh government will probably get the local bodies elections held in 30 days, chief election commissioner said, adding, “However, what PTI is saying is tantamount to postponing this election indefinitely”.
Following the completion of arguments, the ECP reserved the verdict. However, the date of the decision's announcement is not known yet.