President termed govt’s move to hike of UCs mala-fide action | By Kanwar M Dilshad

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President termed govt’s move to hike of UCs mala-fide action

LEGAL and political wrangling on the local government elections in the federal capital continued till now as the President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi refused to sign the bill to increase the number of Union Councils.

The bill was passed by Parliament after the cabinet decided to increase the number of Union Councils from 101 to 125, on 19 December 2022, 12 days before the elections, leading to their postponement.

The President Dr Arif Alvi has returned unsigned the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Amendment Bill 2022, in terms of clause 1(b) of Article 75 of the Constitution.

The President of Pakistan is of the view that it would further delay the local government elections.

Action of the federal government taken in hurry resulted in delaying the election process twice, which was anathema to democracy and presumed the government action as mala fide.

After completion of delimitation of 50 Union Councils, Election Commission of Pakistan announced elections of local government in Islamabad on 31 July 2022 and schedule was announced when the federal government increased the number of Union Councils from 50 to 101, thus putting off the elections.

Section 2 of the current bill has increased the number of Union Councils to 125, and the amendment resulted in the postponement of local government elections in Islamabad that were scheduled for December 31.

It is believed that the President’s stance would weaken the government defence when its intra-court appeal would be taken up by an Islamabad High Court bench.

The Islamabad High Court on December 30, ordered the ECP to hold the elections on 31st as per the schedule, given the machinery less than 18 hours to implement its direction.

However the decision could not be implemented as no polling staff was deployed, while the ballot papers and other material could not be transported to polling stations on such a short notice.

The federal government challenged the Islamabad High Court’s decision in haste and the ECP explained in writing to the court about the reasons for its inability to hold the elections.

The opposition PTI, meanwhile, sought contempt proceedings against both the government and the Election Commission of Pakistan.

According to the appeal, the government has not given adequate time to file a written reply to these petitions and the court announced the judgment.

It’s astonishing that the single bench judge treated the Election Commission of Pakistan as an executive body and directed the Commission to hold elections.

The Election Commission of Pakistan is a constitutional body. The Election Commission of Pakistan, in its appeal against the Islamabad High Court’s order, explained its activities after the court had issued a notice to them on December 28th.

It stated that the Constitution empowered the Election Commission to organise and conduct elections and also make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, fairly and in accordance with the law.

The Election Commission stated that the single-member Bench did not realise that the elections are not possible in the given circumstances as the ballots were lying with the Printing Corporation of Pakistan and the election process requires a number of tasks to be completed, including deployment of 14000 polling personnel to perform duties at 1039 polling stations and 3088 polling booths.

The Election Commission of Pakistan also required mobilisation of over 1000 vehicles for the Election Day.

Explaining the last ditch efforts to hold the elections on 31st December, the Commission approached the Secretary, Ministry of Interior, to provide security arrangements and necessary logistics support.

The Secretary Interior expressed inability to render such support. Now the President of Pakistan termed government’s move to hike number of Unions Councils mala fide action and said passage of amended bill will further delay elections.

Now the ball is in the Islamabad High Court to take up the case next week. Imran Khan continued castigating former army chief for toppling his government in league with the foreign hands and pushing the country into political and economic crisis.

Imran Khan went on to lash out at the former army chief only a day after his coalition partner Ch Pervaiz Elahi strongly criticised Imran Khan for speaking against General Bajwa whom he considers their benefactor.

Ch Pervaiz Elahi warned Imran Khan as well as other PTI leaders that he would not tolerate any thing spoken against General Bajwa and would respond in even harsher tone, besides allowing every party member to speak against General Bajwa’s critics.

Imran Khan’s exit from power opened a new, uncertain and volatile phase in Pakistan’s politics.

Led by PML-N, the 13-party coalition that assumed power, got off to a slow and unsure start as it had to initially overcome impediments in the way of a smooth transition.

—The writer is former Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan and currently Chairman National Democratic Foundation.