The Sindh government suffered a setback on Monday when the Sindh High Court (SHC) struck down the Third Amendment to the Sindh Local Government Act 2013 and also set aside two official notifications for delimitations in Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur and Larkana.
But the provincial government declared that it will challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court, saying, 'holding the local government elections on January 18 is not possible in the present situation'.
"We have not yet studied the detailed judgment which has declared the local government law unconstitutional," the provincial advocate general, Khalid Jawed Khan told The Express Tribune. "We will consult constitutional law experts and challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court." Before filing the appeal, however, the Sindh government plans to approach the Supreme Court to seek an extension in the elections schedule.
The SHC, in its 78-page ruling, however, has given two options to the Sindh government. It can either hold the elections on January 18, "on the position as existing prior to the delimitation process started in the year 2013," or if the provincial government thinks delimitations are necessary prior to the elections, they "may make a request to the honourable Supreme Court and the Election Commission of Pakistan for the extension in the date of elections."
The two-member division bench, comprising Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Sadiq Hasan Bhatti, suggested that if the elections were deferred, the Sindh government should form an independent commission for the delimitation exercise. The commission will have "proper rules and the procedure to deal with the objections and also provide an independent forum of an appellate authority to hear and decide the appeals in the delimitation cases."
Three major changes were introduced in the local government law through the "third ordinance" which has now been declared unconstitutional by the court. The candidates were bound to contest the elections through panels. The union committees were to comprise a population from 10,000 to 50,000 population and deputy commissioners were given the authority to declare any rural area as urban territory.
For their part, Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and his cabinet ministers claim that the nomination forms submitted by the aspiring candidates and the delimitation exercise carried out by the government have now become "null and void", therefore the polls should be deferred. "The SHC has suggested holding the elections on the basis of constituencies, demarcated during Pervez Musharraf's tenure in 2001, which is not possible for us," said the provincial information minister, Sharjeel Inam Memon.
The chief minister, in a statement, said that the provincial government would have no other option, but to challenge the verdict. With the court's decision, the delimitation exercise will be declared void. The decision to merge the Karachi District Council, comprising union councils of sub-urban areas of Malir district into KMC, has also been set aside. This means the status of Karachi District Council stands revived.
Meanwhile, the provincial election commission continued its work on Monday. Speaking to The Express Tribune, the provincial election commissioner, SM Tariq Qadri said, "We follow the orders of the election commission which has not yet asked us to stop the ongoing process." He added that they had displayed the list of nomination papers submitted by the candidates and would start the scrutiny of the papers from today (Tuesday).
Zardari forms committee to woo MQM
Soon after the court order, former President Asif Ali Zardari formed a four-member committee to woo the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and overcome their reservations on the local government law as well as delimitation of the union councils. The committee will be chaired by the CM Qaim Ali Shah and will comprise Nisar Khuhro, Manzoor Wasan and Owais Muzaffar.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2013.