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Govt expresses inability to hold LG polls in Islamabad despite court orders

Minutes after the court’s directives to conduct LG polls tomorrow (December 31), Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Friday the federal government is not in a position to hold local government elections in Islamabad. “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 Geo News. 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 Islamabad High Court (IHC) had earlier directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold local government elections in the capital on December 31 after it accepted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) petitions seeking to nullify ECP’s decision to postpone the local polls. “The federal government is directed to provide all the assistance to the Election Commission of Pakistan for conducting the local bodies’ elections as mandated by the Constitution,” Justice Arbab Muhammad Tahir said in a one-page short order. 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.

Imran Khan welcomes court’s decision

PTI Chairman Imran Khan welcomed the court’s order and congratulated the residents of Islamabad as they could choose their leadership “through the power of their vote”. “Unfortunately, a corrupt group of people has been imposed on us and the election commission is hand in glove with them,” the deposed prime minister said. The PTI chief said the ECP sides with the “thieves” and always issues “anti-democratic” orders. “Honourable courts have dismissed the election commission’s illegal order.” The ex-premier said the “gang of corrupts” is afraid of the masses and always tries its best to escape elections as it aims to ensure that they remain in power no matter what. “They are involved in horse trading and buy the conscience of politicians. This mafia has no other option now [but to head to polls] as the people have rejected them,” he said. The deposed prime minister asked the people of Islamabad to ensure their participation in the polls as he eyed beating his political opponents in tomorrow’s elections.

The contention

Just days before the local body polls were about to take place, 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 the 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.

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