The Sindh High Court has ordered the government to hold local government elections in 90 days.
The system, introduced in 2001 by Pervez Musharraf, expired legally in 2009. Since then, Sindh’s cities have been run by administrators and not elected representatives or nazims. The Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement have not been able to reach a final agreement on which system to adopt. The PPP wants a system of commissioners, a legacy of British rule, while the MQM favours the set-up devised under Musharrad which purports to give more power at the grass roots level.
On Friday, Justice Faisal Arab and Nadeem Akhtar heard a petition filed by Nasir Hussain Shah, who held the post of Sukkur’s district nazim twice. He is currently fighting for the return of the local government system through an entity called the Local Councils Association. His petition asks why the local government elections have not been held since 2009.
The petition has already been put off. But on Friday, the judges rejected all requests for adjournments and any other attempts to delay the proceedings. They ordered the Sindh government to hold the elections within the next 90 days.
In the petition, Nasir Hussain Shah has questioned the successive ordinances and acts passed by the Sindh Assembly, making it possible to postpone elections indefinitely. His lawyer, Barrister Shabbir Shah argued that the delay violated Articles 140-A, 32, 17 (2) and 2-A of the constitution.
For example, the law says that until fresh elections are held, an elected representative has to keep holding that office. Section 150 of the Sindh Local Government Ordinance (SLGO), was incorporated in the law to ensure that no bureaucrat or unelected person assumed office for even a single day.
But the government has not only deferred the elections indefinitely but has also appointed administrators, replacing elected representatives, which is a violation of the laws, Barrister Shabbir Shah argued.
He contended that even though the 18th and 19th amendments to the Constitution were passed, the government had to hold the local government elections in a specific time periods it was a constitutional requirement. It applies to the Sindh government and the other provincial governments.
Barrister Shabbir Shah referred to observations made by the Supreme Court when it was hearing the Balochistan violence or unrest case. It asked the chief secretaries of all four provinces to appear in person and explain why the elections were being delayed.
On Friday, as soon as the proceedings began, Sindh Additional Advocate General Shafi Muhammad Memon asked for an adjournment on the grounds that AAG Sarwar Khan was busy before another bench that is hearing Arbab Ghulam Rahim’s removal case. As the bench declined the request, AAG Shafi Memon went on to argue that the matter was pending before the Supreme Court.
He told the judges that the government and its coalition partners were engaged in talks and legislation would soon be introduced after which the elections would be held.But it seemed that these arguments did not work. After hearing the counsel for the petitioner as well as the provincial government, the bench allowed the petition with detailed reasons to be recorded later.
In its short order, announced in open court, the SHC directed the Election Commission to announce a schedule for the local body elections. It directed the Sindh government to hold elections according to the spirit of Article 140-A.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2012.
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