ISLAMABAD - Rejecting the proposed new schedule for local government (LG) elections in Sindh and Punjab, the Supreme Court Friday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold polls in the two provinces on September 20 and release a fresh schedule on March 10.

The court earlier turned down the plea of the federation for holding LG elections in Cantonment areas on May 2, 2015, and ordered that polls should be conducted there on April 25. It also ordered local government polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on May 30 and summoned elections schedule for Islamabad (on March 10).

A three-member bench, headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, was annoyed when ECP Acting Secretary Sher Afgan declared the political parties stakeholder in the local bodies elections. Justice Jawwad said it were not the political parties but the people of Pakistan who are the real stakeholders.

During the proceeding, Deputy Attorney General Sajid Ilyas Bhatti requested the court for allowing holding of elections in the Cantonment Boards on May 2, instead of April 25, 2015. He contended there are 43 Cantonment Boards in the country, and three to five hundred thousand voters have to be incorporated in the electoral rolls. The bench, however, turned down the request and ordered the ECP to ensure elections in the Cantonments on April 25.

The ECP acting secretary informed the court that the commission could ensure LG elections in Sindh and Punjab on September 20, 2015 if two new printing machines were provided to the Printing Corporation of Pakistan. Justice Jawwad said it was not the job of the court but the responsibility of the Election Commission to arrange the equipment to fulfill its constitutional obligation to hold local government elections.

“Neither we have any personal interest in the local government polls nor is the court against the election commission, but we want the commission to obey the commands of the constitution,” said the judge.

The court rejected the unjustified delay in LG elections in Sindh and Punjab and directed the Election Commission to come up on March 10 with fresh schedules. The ECP acting secretary also withdrew recommendation of holding elections in three-phases in both these provinces.

Regarding holding of election in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), the ECP acting secretary submitted they have not yet started work on holding LG polls in the federal capital, but would give the schedule for carrying out delimitation in Islamabad. The court questioned why the ECP has not yet started the delimitation there despite the fact that bill for the legislation has already been approved by the federal cabinet. Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt informed the court that the bill will be tabled during the forthcoming session of the National Assembly.

“We had already directed you to conduct delimitation in Islamabad,” Justice Jawwad said to the ECP acting secretary, and directed him to submit the schedule for elections in ICT on March 10. “Tell us also as to whether you want to enforce Article 219 of the constitution or not?” Justice Jawwad inquired. The hearing was adjourned till March 10.

On Thursday, the ECP had proposed that LG polls in Sindh and Punjab would be held in three phases. The first phase would be held on 30-09-15, second 04-11-15 and third phase on 09-12-15. The commission had also informed the court that the delimitation process in Punjab and Sindh shall take four months and 20 days and shall be notified on 28th July, 2015, while electoral rolls shall be revised in 45 days. Around 120 million ballot papers shall be printed for Sindh and more than 300 million ballot papers for Punjab.

When the bench had taken up the case on Thursday, Director General (Legal) ECP Abdur Rehman appeared, but miserably failed to answer the court queries. He was even clueless to reply the simple question, as to why phase-wise elections be held in both the provinces?

The court had also observed that it appears the ECP might not consider itself independent statutory body tasked with performing the important constitutional functions to hold the LG elections in support of democratic dispensation, but it considers the subordinate department of the Cabinet Division.

During the proceedings, the SC research staff, present in the courtroom, through internet ascertained that there are fast printing machines, which can generate 100,000 copies of the ballots in one hour.

Justice Jawwad said the ECP does not consider itself the independent besides the fact Article 220 of the Constitution, says; ‘It shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the federation and in the provinces to assist the commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions.’

Justice Sarmad Jalal said the Finance Ministry was bound to give you money for elections as when the Finance Act is passed then there is no voting on ECP budget. The deputy director ECP had informed the court that there were 1.2 million new voters in KP.