ISLAMABAD: The first-ever local government elections in Islamabad, postponed this month due to lack of legislative cover, face another legal hurdle. The law under which delimitations were conducted has expired.
Boundaries for local councils were marked in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) earlier this year through a Presidential Ordinance. This ordinance has lapsed now since parliament did not endorse it within the stipulated time period. Any changes in the delimitations would now require a fresh law.
The delimitations in Islamabad were carried out on the assumption that elections will be non-party based. Senate last week passed the ICT Local Government Bill but with a key amendment-changing LG system to party-based one.
In the new system, Election Commission of Pakistan would need to sub-divide each of the 79 union councils earmarked earlier during the delimitation exercise into six wards.
LG polls were due in Islamabad on July 25 but ECP recalled schedule on July 10 after a SC order. The government had assured the apex court that it will try to pass ICT local government bill within a few days.
Senate did pass the bill but due to amendment it has been sent back to NA, expected to meet after Eid, to approve the amended bill. However, if the bill becomes an act, the issue of delimitations would need a fresh legislation.
Presidential ordinance empowering ECP to carry out delimitations lapsed after completing its four month duration. Once a presidential ordinance is issued it needs to be passed by both houses of parliament separately, otherwise it dies after 120 days. ICT delimitations ordinance has already met this fate now.
Once the NA passes the amended ICT Local Government Bill, ECP would be required to hold party-based elections in the federal city. To go for party based polls, ECP would need to divide every union council into six wards. From each of these wards one candidate would be elected on a general seat.
To do that a new law would be required to give the exercise a legal cover. Such legislation should come either from parliament or through another ordinance from President.
The longer the government takes to complete the legislative framework, the lengthier the polls would get delayed. According to ECP officials in case they make changes in the union councils it would need 30 to 40 days. Under the rules any amendment to delimitations needs to be put on display for a specific time for the general public.
In case anyone raises an objection over the limits of boundary, a competent forum is provided to adjudicate such petitions. The litigation makes the exercise lengthy.
If the government cooperated with ECP and expeditiously completed both legislations, polls are possible by end of this year. Otherwise the long-standing issue would continue to remain pending indefinitely.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.
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