It is not entirely clear as to who exactly is responsible for the uncertainty that surrounds the holding of the local government elections in Islamabad, scheduled for July 25. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is making preparations for these elections, but it lacks a legislative mandate to do so because the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Bill, 2015, has not as yet been passed by the Senate and going ahead with the elections without the upper house of parliament approving the Bill could, arguably, be unconstitutional.
This is the point raised by assorted parliamentarians, some of whom are doubtless looking at their vote bank and wondering if they will be returned to their seats in parliament — and any delay to the electoral process is much to their satisfaction. No matter — the ECP has gone ahead and issued a code of conduct for observers and the media covering the polls.
Why the ECP is so confident is because it is working under the aegis of a Supreme Court judgment of March 4, 2015 that requires the ECP to hold local government elections in Islamabad on the basis of “the contents of the unapproved Bill”, so long as the necessary legislation is not approved within the time limits. This is an interesting situation to say the least. The ECP is confident that it can go ahead with organising the elections because the Supreme Court says it can, and that a stalled Bill in the Senate is not going to be allowed to get in the way of the democratic process.
The ECP had taken pre-emptive action in petitioning the apex Court, and in doing so outflanked the Senate. The Senate may still expedite the Bill, and the delays may be seen as defiance of the will of the Supreme Court.
In this instance, we find ourselves in support of the stance that the ECP is taking. The local government elections all over the country and not just in Islamabad, are important indicators of the maturation of the democratic process and its devolution to the grass roots. They also potentially challenge the status quo, a prospect not universally welcomed by the ruling elite. All too often, vested interests have the final say — but perhaps, not this time. The parliamentarians will do well not to stand in the way of the democratic process. Let the polls proceed.