ISLAMABAD - After an intense, marathon hearing, the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday night ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold local government (LG) elections in Punjab and Sindh in September.

The court earlier set aside the schedule proposed by the ECP for LG polls in three provinces, cantonment areas and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

The ECP had proposed May 16 for LG polls in Cantonment Areas, June 7 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, February 20, 2016 for Punjab and March 20, 2016 for Sindh.

A three-member bench, headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and comprising Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany and Justice Maqbool Baqir, said that polling dates in Punjab and Sindh should be cut back by four months.

“These (proposed) schedules are not satisfactory and delay of LG polls is not justified,” said the bench in an order passed late at night (at 9:30pm). Every day of delay is disempowering the people of Pakistan, Justice Khawaja observed.

The ECP then agreed to reduce timeframe and the court finally ordered LG polls in the first week of September in Sindh and Punjab.

Earlier, in the afternoon, the bench directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary and the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) to submit LG polls schedule before 8pm. The bench reassembled at 8pm and the hearing continued until 9: 30pm.

During the proceeding in the day, the court said that yesterday (Tuesday) they could issue contempt notice to the prime minister, but showed restraint. It said they were least concerned whether two or ten PMs go home, as already one PM had been sent home for non-compliance of the court orders.

Justice Jawwad told the AGP and the ECP secretary, “Let’s put an end to the mockery with the people as they consider they are not treated as citizens of Pakistan because the constitution does not protect their rights.”

The secretary said the electoral rolls have to be updated and for that they need time. Justice Jawwad said he was not going to contest for a union council seat but his interest was the supremacy of the constitution.

ECP Acting Secretary Sher Afgan told the court that Nadra has developed a system and only the data of voters has to be transferred to the ECP. The attorney general said that the electoral rolls are of 2013, which needed to be updated.

The secretary said that for making administrative arrangements, stationary and printing of forms, at least 35 days are required. He said 300 display centres have been established in the Khyber Pakhtukhwa (KP) and from day after tomorrow the people would visit the display centres for verification of their votes.

Justice Jawwad questioned why the ECP has not started these arrangements earlier, adding the electoral rolls have to be updated annually. He said now the voters’ entry could be made online and after the new system the electoral rolls would be updated automatically. “You (ECP) have to be on your toes every moment as the ECP officials are highly paid.”

The judge said that the ECP’s only job is to hold election. The election commission is not constituted only for one year. “It’s not good that the court is perceived as tyrant.” The ECP secretary said that there were two parallel laws of 1924 and 2002 in operation for the local bodies’ elections in Cantonments. “We say give us laws and rules and we will conduct the elections.”

The AGP argued that there was no need of Ordinance for the LG polls in Cantonment areas, while in October 2014 the government had issued ordinance for electoral rolls and delimitation of constituencies.

Justice Sarmad said the Supreme Court 2013 judgment empowers the ECP to carry out its functions. If there was no law or amendment in the law even then the election commission was bound to hold elections. The AGP said the 18th Amendment has also empowered the ECP.

Justice Sarmad said the law of 1924 is so clear. The secretary requested to the bench to pass an order that the ECP could interpret the law as it would make the job of the Commission easier. Justice Baqir said it seemed there was some kind of blockade in your mind, please clear it. “We are trying to strengthen the hands of the ECP.” Justice Sarmad said that the ECP has constitutional mandate and it is the creation of constitution.

At 2:30pm the court asked the attorney general and the ECP secretary to submit the election schedules of local bodies’ elections in Cantonments, KP, Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) at 8pm.

The court decided to continue the hearing of the case today (Thursday).

Agencies add: The Attorney General of Pakistan Salman Butt submitted before the court that local government elections in all the cantonments of the country will be held on May 16, 2015.

ECP Secretary Syed Sher Afgan earlier submitted a schedule of holding LG polls before the apex court in which it was suggested that polls will be held in three stages — with the third stage ending on March 26, 2015.