Enshrined in the constitution as the lowest rung of government and fast becoming a thorny issue, local bodies (LB) elections seem distant still with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) saying that their hands are ‘tied’ and that meeting a Supreme Court deadline of holding the countrywide polls by September 15 is becoming increasingly impossible.
Last month, the Supreme Court had directed provincial governments to complete new LB legislation and delimitation of constituencies by mid-August and directed the election commission to hold elections across the country by mid-September.
However, according to a senior ECP official familiar with developments, “the government has neither announced holding of LB elections nor has it done the required legislation for the purpose.”
Given the seriousness of the issue, the official revealed that holding of LB polls came under discussion during a recent meeting of the ECP, chaired by Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed Khan, on progress of several ECP projects. Talking about the meeting, the official added that the secretary was given a detailed briefing on LB polls and was informed that the commission’s hands were tied and it was not possible to hold elections without any step from the government.
“It seems it is almost impossible to meet the deadline,” said the official, referring to court’s order of holding the election by September 15.
A comprehensive and uniform Local Government Ordinance (LGO) was enacted in 2001 by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. However after running a uniform local government system across the country for eight years, the ordinance expired in 2009. Thereafter, the responsibility of legislating on and holding local government elections became a provincial responsibility.
The ECP once again became the centre of LB polls when the enactment of the 18th Constitutional Amendment once again shifted the responsibility of holding the election to the ECP.
Talking about the change in roles after the 18th Amendment, the official said the ECP had asked provincial governments to enact laws for a system of their own choice. “In 2010, all provinces did enact their separate legislation with the result that at present all four provinces have a different form of LB system. This will make it extremely difficult for the ECP to hold elections,” added the source while calling on parliament to legislate for a uniform LB system across all provinces.
Highlighting one of the many legal lacunae in implementation of Supreme Court directives, the official stated that the apex court had also directed ECP to hold LB polls in 53 cantonment boards of the country by September. While an enthusiastic Ministry of Interior had promised to do the job, the promise seems unrealistic given that the Local Government Ordinance doesn’t apply to cantonment areas.
Explaining the situation, the official said “the cantonment boards are yet to be included in the process through new legislation,” adding that relevant and comprehensive legislation was necessary.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2013.
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