IHC seeks fresh schedule for local govt polls

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday sought a fresh schedule for the local government (LG) elections in 125 union councils (UCs) from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in addition to an undertaking from the federal government that polls in the capital would not be delayed.

An IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Saman Rafat Imtiaz resumed hearing the appeals filed by the ECP and the federal government against the decision of the single-member bench that had directed the ECP to conduct polls on Dec 31 – the order had come on Dec 30, one day before the proposed date of elections.

At the outset, Additional Attorney General Munawar Iqbal Duggal informed the court that the joint session of parliament passed the bill to amend the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Act to increase the number of Islamabad’s UCs from 101 to 125.

He said the bill became law even though the president did not give assent to the piece of legislation. As per Article 75(2) of the Constitution, “When the president has returned the bill to the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament), it shall be reconsidered by the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) in joint sitting and, if it is again passed, with or without amendment, by the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament), by the votes of the majority of the members of both houses present and voting, it shall be deemed for the purposes of the Constitution to have been passed by both houses and shall be presented to the president, and the president shall give his assent within ten days, failing which such assent shall be deemed to have been given.”

Chief justice seeks assurance that govt would not alter UCs’ number after schedule

The new amendments in the act did not provide any mechanism to restrict the federal government from increasing the UCs even after the announcement of the schedule of the LG elections. Justice Farooq remarked that the court would issue a guideline for the government in this regard.

He further asked the additional attorney general to submit an undertaking either from the relevant federal secretary or the minister that the government would not increase the number of the UCs after the announcement of the schedule. He also asked the ECP to submit a fresh schedule for the LG elections.

“We want a schedule from the ECP that when it can hold the elections and we will write down this in the order of the court,” said Justice Farooq, adding that, “we don’t want a fresh round of litigation”.

The court was told that parliament has deleted the section pertaining to direct elections for the seats of the mayor and deputy mayor in the amended law. Justice Farooq wondered about the change of heart of the government and said the argument put forth by the ECP and the government seeking a delay in elections was based on the amendment concerning direct voting for mayor.

Barrister Taimoor Aslam argued that the amendment has revived the previous procedure of the LG elections and technically, the appeals of the ECP and the federal government have become infructuous now. He pointed out that the federal government could have made this amendment through an executive order.

Justice Farooq said it was unfortunate that the citizens of the federal government were without any elected government for the past two years. Justice Imtiaz observed that there was no provision in the law that would justify the suspension of the LG elections. The court adjourned further hearing in this matter till Feb 20.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2023