ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday informed the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the government of Punjab has taken an illegal step while dissolving local bodies in the province.
A two-member bench of the apex court comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Maqbool Baqir heard a case pertaining to local bodies elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The court took exception to delay in holding of local bodies elections across the country and sought schedule for the elections for the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. The court questioned the role of the Election Commission of Pakistan by not fulfilling its obligation as well as ensuring holding of local bodies elections in the country. The court summoned the attorney general and the chief election commissioner and its relevant staff and observed that it is a constitutional obligation of the commission to ensure holding of local bodies elections well on time. The court observed that whosoever are bent upon delaying and violating the constitution are prima facie committing high treason.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa observed that unpopular governments fear while approaching the public. Whosoever is popular does not fear while approaching the public. The judge asked the chief election commissioner that the constitution is so strong and all have to obey it. “But it seems that instead of the constitution you are taking instructions from some others”, Justice Isa asked the chief election commissioner. “If you cannot perform a constitutional obligation and hold the elections, you should go home after resigning”, Justice Isa asked the official.
The chief election commissioner told the court that local bodies elections will be conducted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on April 8, adding that a meeting has been convened for holding elections in other provinces.
Justice Isa told the CEC if anyone tries to create obstacles in the process, he should be proceeded against. “Exercise your constitutional powers and understand it,” Justice Isa told the CEC. Justice Maqbool Baqir observed that even in times of war, elections are not halted, adding that recently the US conducted general elections despite the COVID-19 pandemic. A great injustice has already been done with the masses and no more will be tolerated,” Justice Baqir remarked. “If you do not give powers to the public at the grassroots level, how the work will go on,” Justice Baqir said, adding that the status of local bodies is like a nursery for democracy but “you have blocked the nursery”. “We are our own enemies, not requiring an external foe, if we fail to comply with the constitution,” remarked Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
Attorney General Khalid Javed submitted that democracy is the first priority, adding that local bodies elections should be held well on time and as per constitution.
Justice Isa said the court had ordered holding local bodies elections in KP, asking the AG as to whether he has informed the government and whether the matter has been brought before the cabinet. The court wants that everyone should fulfil constitutional obligations.
The AG replied that there is no need to place the matter before the cabinet, adding that the government has taken back a notification regarding the Islamabad mayor on his advice. To a court query, the chief election commissioner said that in three provinces, the tenure of local bodies has come to an end while in Punjab, the local bodies have been dissolved.
Justice Isa asked whether the provincial government has the power to abandon local bodies. The CEC replied that the Punjab government has taken an illegal step.
“Who abolished the local bodies of Punjab,” Justice Isa asked the ECP head who replied that the chief minister Punjab has abolished the local bodies. “Then what you have done against the Punjab government,” Justice Isa asked. The chief election commissioner replied that the Punjab government has enacted a new law and asked for dates for holding the elections.
Justice Maqbool Baqir observed that it is a great injustice with the people of Punjab as the local bodies were abolished illegally.
Justice Isa asked the CEC when he will ensure holding of local bodies elections in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. The CEC told the court that despite coronavirus, by-elections were conducted. Justice Isa said it is a constitutional obligation and responsibility of the ECP to do so.
The ECP head said the local governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ended on August 25, 2019 but no laws have been enacted so far. Justice Isa questioned whether every time new rules will be farmed for new elections. “Being the head of the ECP, why are you not telling the exact date for holding local bodies elections?” Justice Isa asked the ECP head.
Meanwhile, the court directed the CEC to give dates for holding local bodies elections in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan with the observation that it is a constitutional obligation of the commission to hold the elections in accordance with the law. The court asked the CEC to submit before it on the next date of hearing the minutes of the meeting being convened as well as a progress report pertaining to holding of local bodies elections and adjourned the hearing.