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Govt, ECP challenge IHC’s order to hold LG polls in capital today

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and federal government on Saturday challenged the orders of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to hold local government elections in the federal capital today (December 31).

The electoral body had requested an immediate hearing on an intra-court appeal filed in the high court. However, the IHC registrar’s office raised an objection over the appeal, saying that it lacks the required documents.

Later, the objections were removed by the ECP’s legal team.

Meanwhile, the federal government also challenged the IHC’s order via a separate intra-court appeal.

On Friday, the IHC, while accepting the petitions of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) for nullification of ECP’s decision of LG polls’ deferral, directed the electoral body to hold the elections as per the schedule.

On December 27, the ECP had cancelled the December 31 schedule to hold the local government elections in the federal capital after a change in the union councils of the capital territory.

However, the high court in its one-page short order, asked the federal government to ensure that “it assists the election commission in holding the local government polls”.

“The Ministry of Interior’s December 19 notification has been declared null and void and so is the December 27 notification of the election commission,” the order added.

The election commission had deferred the polls after the federal government increased the number of union councils (UCs) in the capital without taking the former into confidence. Before reserving the verdict, the court had expressed displeasure over the federal government’s attitude.

“We are disappointed in the government [lack of engagement],” the court said.

ECP holds emergency meeting

The federal government decided to challenge the order of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to hold local government elections in Islamabad on December 31 (today).

Munawar Iqbal Duggal, the additional attorney-general, confirming the move said the ECP is going to file an intra-court appeal against the decision.

The ECP held an emergency meeting after the IHC’s orders and decided to file an intra-court appeal against the court’s verdict.

The election commission decided to seek at least a week to conduct the polls stating it requires time for the printing and delivery of ballot papers, the sources said.

ECP officials also held a meeting with Duggal over the inability to conduct the polls. Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Raja also reached Islamabad and held a meeting on the situation.

The election commission has expressed its inability in the meeting to conduct the local government elections within a day, the sources said. The deployment of polling and security personnel would become a major challenge for the election commission, it adds.

Sources said more than 14,000 members of the polling staff were teachers and employees of other departments and they were on winter vacation, hence making it difficult for the ECP to conduct the election. The delivery of polling materials to the polling station and setting up polling booths is a huge challenge.

‘Federal govt not ready to hold local government elections in ICT’

Minutes after the IHC’s directives to conduct LG polls today, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah the federal government is not in a position to hold local government elections in Islamabad immediately.

“We respect the court [Islamabad High Court], but holding the elections is not possible as the arrangements cannot be made in such a short period,” the federal minister told.

He added that as many as 1,000 polling stations needed security, election material is still not deployed at the stations and the polling staff will also be needed. “This isn’t possible.”

The minister also added that since the “ground realities” do not permit the government to ensure the polls take place, the centre was going to file an intra-court appeal against the order.

“The order was issued in the evening after office hours. How is it possible to make the arrangements for the [elections]? What can be a more strong reason than this,” Sanaullah said when asked about what his hopes were about the petition’s acceptance.

The minister said he was not surprised by the order, but noted that directions should be “implementable” and the latest IHC order will ensure “that the elections do not take place”.

Sanaullah said a new schedule should be issued for the polls, and there is no other way to hold the elections as he ruled out assisting the election commission.

“It isn’t possible [to assist] the commission. We cannot provide security in such a short time period for 1,000 polling stations. Islamabad Police are not enough as will need to deploy Rangers and FC will have to be called in,” he added.

Sanaullah said he foresees the polls taking place in the next three to four months as the new delimitation will take time.

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