ISLAMABAD - The notable non-seriousness shown by the provincial governments and the electoral body in holding the local government elections unfolded a new episode Wednesday, with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government requesting the ECP to delay the LG polls timeline in the province by end of March.
The electoral body, in response, asked the provincial government to move the Supreme Court that is hearing a related case. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also cancelled hundreds of thousands of nomination papers filed for LG polls in Sindh and Punjab and decided not to refund to respective candidates millions of rupees received as nomination papers’ fees. This implies that all those candidates who decide not to contest the LG polls but have paid the fees would be deprived of the money paid to the ECP.
The KPK government’s request to ECP for LG polls’ delay appears to have caught the provincial government in a paradox as, on one hand, the provincial government was the one to have claimed last year to conduct the LG polls in the province before September 15 while, on the other hand, it now seeks unusual delay on this count.
The ECP has already expressed its failure to hold the LG polls in Sindh and Punjab this month due to pending pre-poll preparations. It has also cited the related judgements of Sindh and Lahore high courts against constituencies’ delimitations and the LG rules in the two provinces, following which the SC has allowed the commission to cancel related electoral schedules and announce fresh schedules after the relevant constitutional requirements are met.
To discuss the prevalent issues concerning the LG polls, the commission’s top management and the government officials concerned met here on Wednesday with Acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk in the chair. The commission reviewed a request moved by KPK Chief Secretary Arbab Shahzad on behalf of the provincial government seeking delay in the LG polls by last week of March. In this context, the chief secretary cited technical difficulties being faced as result of the constituencies’ delimitation in KP as well as the tough weather conditions in certain parts of the province.
The commission asked the government functionary to move the SC which was hearing a related case on the LG polls in the three provinces, Punjab Sindh and KPK as well as the cantonment boards (CBs). On the ECP’s request and recommendation, the SC last November had ordered the conduct of LG polls in Sindh and Punjab on January 18 and January 30 and KP and CBs in February.
Talking to The Nation, Arbab Shahzad said expected heavy snowfall in parts of the KPK, especially in Galiyat and related belt of Hazara region, in February would make it difficult to make arrangements for the LG polls next month. “Snow completely melts by the last days of March and weather gets much better,” he said and added technical difficulties like improper or incorrect delimitations in hundreds of constituencies were being faced owing to which the candidates concerned were moving applications against these inaccuracies.
“Our government officials are receiving applications, conducting probes and taking decisions accordingly. It’s the provincial government's job to conduct the delimitations of constituencies and remove irregularities, which we are doing,” the chief secretary stated, adding fresh delimitations had been done in the areas where inaccuracies were detected. The provincial government would look into the possibility whether to move the SC for LG polls’ delay, Shahzad said.
In another development, the ECP Wednesday cancelled hundreds of thousands of nomination papers filed by the candidates for the Sindh and Punjab LG polls, while deciding the candidates would be required to submit fresh nomination papers, but without paying the fees afresh, on the production of fee payment receipts. The commission, however, failed to devise a mechanism to reimburse the fees dues to those who earlier submitted their nomination papers along with fees but are not interested in contesting the polls once the new election schedules are issued for the two provinces.
“The candidates have to produce only the fee receipts and they would not be paying any money,” ECP Additional Secretary Syed Sher Afgan told journalists Wednesday, without elaborating the specifications.
He said the proposed use of biometric verification system in the LG polls in KPK would be discussed at the commission’s next meeting whose date would be finalised soon. Last month, Sher Afgan admitted before the National Assembly Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs that the introduction of biometric system was not possible in KPK’s LG polls as demanded by the provincial government, taking the plea that the technology was very expensive and was possible only in dust-free environment.
The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and the CBs have yet to frame the LG election rules which require the passage of respective pills from the Parliament, Afgan said in a media briefing.