Friday, December 30, 2022
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has proposed key amendments to the legal framework to prevent any delay in the holding of timely grass-roots level polls, which will put an end to the governments' hesitation in conducting local elections.
The 14-page order issued by the electoral body on the postponement of LG polls in the federal capital made a passing reference to these amendments. However, the proposed amendments were thrashed out by its law wing.
The election commission wants federal and provincial governments to pass legislation well before a local government’s term expires so that the subsequent electoral process is not hampered.
As per the draft proposal, an amendment has been proposed to Section 219 of the Elections Act, 2017, to bind the respective governments to enact amendments to the local government laws and administrative units well in time.
The proposed amendment to the section says, “The federal government, or as the case may be, the provincial government shall make necessary arrangements, including amendments to the existing local government laws and rules, and change or alteration in the administrative limits of districts, tehsils, and local areas, before the expiry of the term of local government.”
Likewise, proposed provisos read that the federal government, or as the case may be, the provincial government, shall not alter the administrative limits of districts, tehsils, and urban and rural local areas after the expiry of the term of the local government.
“Provided that, in case the existing local government system is required to be replaced completely with the new local government system or substantially altered during its currency by any government, then such enactment shall be made by an act of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) or the Provincial Assembly, as the case may be, at least one year before the expiry of the local government province, cantonment, Islamabad Capital Territory, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or a part thereof.”
One of the proposed amendments envisages that “the commission may, by order in the official gazette, make provisions for the conduct of local government elections if no provision or insufficient provision has been made under this act or the rules.”
The commission justifies the proposed changes by explaining that Article 32 of the Constitution provides that the state shall encourage local government institutions to be composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned, and in such institutions, the special representation will be given to peasants, workers, and women. The draft also says Article 140-A (1) provides that each province shall by law establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative, and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representative of the local governments. The conduct of local government elections is addressed in Chapter XIII of the Elections Act of 2017.
Therefore, the election commission, under Article 140-A(2) read with Article 219(d) of the Constitution, is under obligation to hold local government elections. Article 218(3) of the Constitution casts a duty upon the commission to organise and conduct elections and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly, and by the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.
“The commission has always strived to hold timely local government elections in order to fulfil its constitutional obligation, but the federal and provincial governments repeal or amend local government laws even after the expiry of the term of the local government, causing an inordinate delay in the conduct of the election and the commission faces difficulty in fulfilling its constitutional duty.” “It is now established that local government is the third tier of the state, and delay in the election of local government offends Article 32, 140-A(1), and 219(d) of the Constitution and also hampers the devolution of powers at the grass-roots level,” the document says.
Similarly, the election commission has also proposed an amendment to Article 140-A of the Constitution, and it seeks to add sub-clause 3 to Article 140-A, providing the same changes as in Section 219 of the Elections Act, whereas Section 219 of the act in its present form reads: “The Commission shall conduct elections to the local governments under the applicable local government law and the rules framed thereunder, as may apply to a province, cantonments, Islamabad Capital Territory, or federally administered tribal areas.
“Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), the voting procedure for direct elections to the local governments in a province, cantonments, Islamabad Capital Territory, or federally administered tribal areas shall be the same as provided for an election to the assemblies under this act. “Subject to subsection (4), the Commission shall, in consultation with the federal or provincial government, announce the date or dates on which the elections to a local government shall be conducted in a province, cantonment, Islamabad Capital Territory, federally administered tribal areas, or a part thereof. “The Commission shall hold elections to the local governments within one hundred and twenty days of the expiry of the terms of the local governments of a province, cantonment, Islamabad Capital Territory, or federally administered tribal areas.
“The Commission shall organise and conduct elections under this Chapter and shall make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the elections are conducted honestly, justly, fairly, and by the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against. “The Commission may, by order in the official gazette, make provisions for the conduct of local government elections if no provision or insufficient provision has been made under this Act or the Rules.
“Article 140-A (1) of the Constitution states that each province is bound to establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative, and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments by law, and Article 140-A (2) reads, “Elections to the local governments shall be held by the Election Commission of Pakistan.”
It remains to be seen how governments will react to this proposed document and what shape it will take if and when it is taken up for deliberation. It is anticipated that the federal and provincial governments may view this draft differently.