KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Friday asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to notify the polling date for holding the local bodies elections in Karachi and Hyderabad within 15 days and conclude the overall exercise of the polls in any event within a period of 60 days.
The court, however, directed the Sindh government to ensure that requisite assistance, whether by way of adequate security or otherwise, is rendered to the ECP in the matter as per the Article 220 of the Constitution.
The court also directed the provincial chief secretary and inspector general police to ensure that any preparatory or organisational steps required for the purpose are taken well in advance of the date(s).
The directions came on the petitions filed by Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against continuous deferment of the local bodies polls in Karachi and Hyderabad by the ECP.
The PTI and JI’s counsel submitted that the provincial administration had virtually hijacked the democratic process and held the ECP hostage by deliberately withholding support for purpose of the election. They argued that the repeated postponements of election were mala fide and unwarranted, with it being incumbent upon the ECP to hold the polls and the provincial administration to provide the necessary support.
The ECP submitted that they remained cognisant of their responsibilities and could conduct the election within a period of 15 days, subject to reasonable security arrangements being made available.
The Sindh advocate general also assured the court that the elections would be held in a safe and secure manner, while the inspector general police said the police would play their role to the fullest extent towards that end.
The SHC’s division bench comprising Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M Sheikh and Justice Yousuf Ali Sayeed, while issuing judgment on the petitions, observed that much water has flowed since the advent of the floods and it is questionable whether the continued preoccupation of law enforcement personnel in relief operations remains so emergent so as to constitute a valid cause for their being withheld from the election duty.
The court observed that the local bodies polls have been repeatedly postponed for almost four months on that pretext with a definite future date still not being in sight.
The court observed that there has been considerable time for an appropriate solution to have been found, and the matter cannot indefinitely be kept in abeyance by the provincial administration continuing to withhold the aid it is duty-bound to provide to the ECP on the same pretext.
It observed that the documents and reports showed that there was a shortage of 16,786 police personnel; however a large number of personnel have apparently been diverted to other duties.
The court observed that the Sindh government’s letter to the ECP reflected that as many as 5,000 police personnel of Sindh Police have been placed at the disposal of Islamabad Police, while a significant number have been deployed for the 11th International Defense Exhibition & Seminar (IDEAS-2022), as a number of national and international delegations are expected to visit and participate in the event.
The judges, without casting any aspersion on those deployments, observed that the court cannot help but question whether or not the smooth functioning of a democratic system is more imperative so as to place the security needs of the election on a higher plane than those commitments.
The court also dismissed the application filed by Muttahida Quami Movement for becoming intervener in the case on ground that various petitions have been filed by the party on the subject of devolution and delimitation of constituencies and the election ought not to be held until those cases were decided.
The petitioners submitted that the term of the last local bodies had expired in August 2020, but instead of holding the elections, the Sindh government appointed administrators throughout the province.
They said the provincial government was reluctant to hold the elections and had deliberately delayed the delimitation process by not providing suggestions, details and required maps for the delimitation of union committees as per the local government law and the Election Act 2017.
They said the ECP, under the Constitution, was bound to conduct the local government polls within 120 days after the end of the previous local bodies’ term.
They submitted that the ECP’s decision for the postponement of the polls in Karachi was arbitrary and the provincial government was not interested in holding the polls in the Karachi Division in order to retain its control over the powers and resources of its municipal institutions.
The court was requested to direct the ECP to conduct the polls in Karachi without any further delay.
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Soon after the blast, the police reached the site and cordoned off the area.