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Saturday December 04, 2021

KP plea against PHC order: SC issues ECP notice in LG polls on party basis case

November 26, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) Thursday issued notice to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the petitions, filed by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government, challenging the verdict of Peshawar High Court (PHC) ordering holding of polls for village and neighbourhood councils in the province on party-basis.

A two-member SC bench comprising Justice Umer Ata Bandial and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah heard the appeals of KP government against the PHC order about holding of polls on party-basis. The PHC, while partially accepting the writ petitions filed by different opposition party leaders, had ordered the provincial government and the ECP to hold polls for village and neighbourhood councils in KP on party-basis.

Former chief minister and leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) Akram Khan Durrani, Khushdil Khan Advocate, a member of the KP Assembly from Awami National Party, Himayatullah Mayar of the ANP and Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-e-Islami had filed petitions in the PHC seeking local governments (LGs) polls on party-basis.

The petitioners had moved the PHC against the decision of the government and the ECP about holding the village and neighbourhood councils elections in the coming LGs polls on non-party basis. The ECP had already announced the schedule for the LGs elections in KP that were to be held in half of the province on Dec 19.

The provincial government, however, had filed an appeal in the SC challenging the PHC verdict. On Thursday, the SC issued notices to ECP and adjourned the hearing for Nov 30 and held that the instant matter would be heard by a three-member bench.

The court referred the matter to Chief Justice of Pakistan for constituting a bench and asked KP advocate general and counsel for the respondents to assist it on legal points.

Justice Umer Ata Bandial observed that the respondents belong to political parties, adding that Khushdil Khan was a member provincial assembly while Kamran Murtaza was a senator, hence they while assisting the court must remain impartial.

During the course of hearing, KP Advocate General Shumail Ahmed Butt, while replying to a court query, stated that the PHC had not yet released detailed judgment in the case. He contended that due to the court verdict, an ambiguity had emerged in the law pertaining to the LGs polls, adding that polls could not be held on party-basis unless and until an amendment was made to the law concerned.

Justice Umer Ata Bandial, however, asked the law officer as to why polls could not be held on party-basis. The KP advocate general replied that no legal mechanism was available for holding the polls on party-basis.

He submitted that instead of ordering holding of polls on Dec 19, the high court should have given more time for holding the elections. “This would be the first kind of polls wherein the ballot papers would carry election symbols of three candidates of one party,” the KP advocate general submitted and questioned as to how an illiterate person would differentiate on which symbol he should stamp his vote.

To another question, the law officer said the only solution to the issue was to make amendment to the rules, adding that unless the provincial government change the rules, the ECP could do nothing.

He submitted that even if the provincial government agreed to conduct polls on party-basis, the law did not permit doing so as well. At this, Justice Umer Ata Bandial remarked that if the law did not permit, then an ordinance should be issued in this regard, adding that other three provinces were holding polls on party-basis.

What is the problem in adopting the mechanism of other provinces,” Justice Bandial asked. The judge observed that one solution was possible if photos of the contesting candidates were pasted on the ballot papers.

Justice Bandial observed that let the detailed judgment of the PHC come and gave one week-time with the direction to all parties to give their proposals in that regard. Justice Sajjad Ali Shah observed that it was the constitutional responsibility of the ECP to ensure holding of free, fair and transparent elections.

“If the Election Commission came and sought time for holding the elections, then the problems will come to an end.” Meanwhile, Kamran Murtaza, counsel for the JUIF, conceded to the KP advocate general stance that mechanism for holding polls on party-basis could not be made in a short time. Later, the court adjourned the hearing until Nov 30.