Friday Dec 30, 2022
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Friday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold local government elections in the capital on December 31 (tomorrow).
IHC's Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir accepted the petitions of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) seeking to nullify ECP's decision to postpone the local government elections.
In its one-page short order, the high court asked the federal government to ensure that "it assists the election commission in holding the local government polls".
"The Ministry of Interior's December 19 notification has been declared null and void and so is the December 27 notification of the election commission," the order added.
The election commission had deferred the polls after the federal government increased the number of union councils (UCs) in the capital without taking the former into confidence.
Before reserving the verdict, the court had expressed displeasure over the federal government's attitude. "We are disappointed in the government [lack of engagement]," the court said.
At the outset of today's hearing, Additional Attorney-General of Pakistan Munawar Iqbal Duggal told the court that federal government and ECP officials held a meeting earlier in the day.
"Due to a shortage of time, we could not take into account the comments," the AAG said, to which the court questioned that is the federal government so incompetent that it cannot send its response to a petition.
In response, Duggal said that even if the government readies an answer, it cannot be forwarded without approval from the Ministry of Law and Justice.
The judge then asked what was the reason behind increasing the number of UCs 12 days prior to the elections and also questioned whether the government could promise to hold the polls or not.
"This the government's prerogative whether it wants to hold the polls," the AAG said, to which the court asked how many times has this power been exercised in 2022.
The AAG told the court that the power has been exercised twice this year.
Following this, Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Jadoon began his arguments and questioned the conduct of PTI leader Ali Nawaz Awan — one of the petitioners.
"The petitioner should review his conduct and so should the court. Ali Nawaz Awan is a member of the National Assembly, but he is not playing his role over there."
For devolving powers, Awan should be attending the lower house's sessions, Jadoon said.
In his arguments, DG Election Commission (Law) informed the court that the commission had carried out many undertakings for conducting local government polls.
To this, Justice Tahir asked the official to inform the court what have ECP processed so far since June 30.
“We announced the local government election schedule for December 31. Printing of ballot paper and the training of the polling staff has been completed,” the DG told the court.
Justice Tahir asked the DG ECP what was the distance of the farthest polling station from your office. “Can’t you hold the polls right away?” the court asked the DG ECP, who replied that it was possible to hold local elections in 7-10 days.
He added that ballot papers were supplied to the polling stations two days before the polls, while security arrangements also needed to be taken care of.
Justice Tahir remarked that security arrangements are always in place in Islamabad.
"If elections didn't take place the polling material would go to waste," Justice Tahir said and asked who would be responsible for that. "The one who issued the notification would be to blame," replied DG ECP.
PTI leader Ali Nawaz Awan and Jamaat-e-Islami moved the IHC yesterday seeking to quash the ECP's decision to postpone local government elections in Islamabad.
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 respondents.
According to Awan, the order is "violative of Article 75 (3) of the Constitution".
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 the 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.