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IHC issues notice to ECP in Islamabad local body polls case

Islamabad High Court also serves notice to AGP, seeking assistance

By Awais Yousafzai
December 28, 2022
Security personnel stand guard outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC). — AFP/File
Security personnel stand guard outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC). — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has served a notice to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for deferring local government elections in the capital.

The IHC issued the notice Wednesday after Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir took up the petition of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) seeking to nullify ECP's decision to postpone the local body polls.

The IHC also issued a notice to Attorney-General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan for assisting the court in the hearing.

The plea was filed as the ECP delayed the polls a day earlier after it held a hearing and listened to all the parties involved in the matter, upon the IHC's orders.

The bone of contention between the political parties, the ECP, and the federal government is that of an increase in the number of union councils, which the centre notified earlier this month.

Case hearing

At the outset of today's hearing, Awan's lawyer Advocate Sardar Taimoor said the election commission had issued the schedule for local body polls for 50 UCs on June 2.

"The federal government increased the number of union councils to 101. Then, the election commission delayed the polls for fresh delimitation," the lawyer said.

Later, the ECP issued a revised schedule for the local body polls on October 22 and in line with the timetable, the elections were supposed to take place on December 21.

The lawyer mentioned that as soon as the preparations were done for the polls, the federal government once again increase the number of UCs. He added that the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation administrator moved the summary for the new UC 12 days back.

"How did the administrator get data that the population increased without a fresh census?" he wondered.

In response, Justice Tahir said the summary to increase the UCs was approved within 24 hours. However, he noted that the prosecution act has not been passed despite repeated notices from the court.

The lawyer then told the court that the government had increased the UCs from 101 to 125 and that once the schedule has been issued, the number cannot change.

The PTI lawyer said that the ECP has already spent millions of rupees and that the new legislation which changed the numbers of the UCs should be considered a "proposal" and not a law since the president has not yet approved it.

Following this, the court served notices to the attorney-general and ECP as it adjourned the hearing till tomorrow (December 29).

The plea

PTI leader Ali Nawaz Awan and Jamaat-e-Islami moved the IHC earlier in the day, seeking to nullify and set aside the ECP's decision to postpone the local government elections in Islamabad.

Nawaz stated that the order is "violative of Article 75 (3) of the Constitution".

It also requested to "set aside the Notification of increase of Union Councils dated 19-12-2022 (having been issued post announcement of Election Schedule and merely 11 days before the election date, i.e. 31-12-2022)."

The petitioner made the cabinet secretary, the interior secretary and the Election Commission of Pakistan parties to the petition.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, Metropolitan Corporation and District Election Commission were also made parties to the petition.

What's it about?

Just as the local body polls were about to take place on December 31, the federal government had earlier this month approved a summary to increase the number of union councils of the federal capital from existing 101 to 125.

The summary stated that the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad administrator — deputy commissioner — has said that the present number of union councils is 101 as fixed based on 2017 census.

However, the population of Islamabad increased to 205 million in the last five years and, therefore, it is appropriate that the number of union councils may be enhanced to 125, it claimed.

It stated that Section 4 (1) and 6 (1) of the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Act, 2015 authorises the federal government to determine the number of union councils within Islamabad through notification published in the official gazette.

But after that, the election commission issued an order to continue the process of holding local government elections in the federal capital, saying that the union councils were increased in violation of the related law.

In its two-page order, the ECP said the government took the measure without the concurrence of the election commission, which was required under Section 4 (4) of the Islamabad Capital Territory Local Government Act 2015.

The ECP said in its order that now, the commission in the exercise of its powers under Article 140-A(2), Article 218(3), Article 219(d), and Article 220 of the Constitution read with enabling provisions of law, hereby, decided to continue the election process on the stipulated date.

Following the ECP's order, the government passed the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and also had it passed in the Senate — but is not yet been signed by the president.

Then, the IHC struck down the ECP's order to continue with the polls and asked the election body to hold a hearing and invite all the parties in the case to hear them out.

Following the hearing on Tuesday, the ECP decided to delay the polls. But then, the PTI and JI approached the court against it.