ISLAMABAD - The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has chosen November 3 as a tentative date for the much-delayed local government elections in the cantonment localities after the Ministry of Defence has finally moved for the promulgation of a presidential ordinance on LG polls.

The defence ministry has sent a related summary to the Ministry of Law and Justice to be put up before the newly sworn in President Mamnoon Hussain for approval. The defence ministry has shared its recommendations in the said summary just a few days before the expiry of Supreme Court-ordered deadline of September 15 on holding the LG polls in the Cantonment Boards (CBs).

This has annoyed Acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani who categorically shared his reservations over the ministry role in delaying the LG elections in the CBs, while chairing a top-level ECP meeting on Tuesday.

Held to review progress on LG cantonment polls, the meeting was attended by Secretary Defence Lieutenant General (r) Asif Yasin Malik, Director General Military Lands and Cantonments (MLA&C) Major General Mazhar Saleem Khan, Chairman National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) Tariq Malik, Secretary ECP Ishtiak Ahmad Khan and other top ECP officials.

The acting CEC observed, the ECP had made the required preparatory arrangements for LG polls in the CBs in pursuance of the SC order but the ministry had yet to play its part in this regard. The SC judge inquired from the secretary defence and DG ML&C as to why the related data of only 43 CBs was shared with the ECP (polls would be held in 42 CBs) when the secretary defence had assured the SC in July this year that LG cantonment polls would be held in the 53 CBs by September 15. In their explanation, which the ECP found unsatisfactory, the secretary and DG mentioned about certain problems related to population census blocs, delimitation of constituencies and related factors to contend that the LG polls could not be immediately held in the remaining 10 cantonments.

“This is extremely unfortunate that SC-ordered deadline is being missed because adequate arrangements were not made beforehand. Steps shall be taken to hold these elections at the earliest,” Justice Tassaduq Jillani directly addressed Asif Yasin and Mazhar Saleem.

The ECP asked them to submit an application before the SC today explaining the circumstances for delay in the LG polls in the CBs to be accompanied with the request for more time for the conduct of the cantonment elections in November’s first week.

On account of pending issues related to Omara Cantonment in Balochistan, the ECP decided that the polls in the said CB would be held later once those issues were redressed. It formed an eight-member committee headed by Balochistan’s Provincial Election Commissioner Sultan Bayazeed and comprising of seven provincial government officials to deal with the matter. The commission also directed NADRA to prepare voter lists for 42 CBs.

Talking to this correspondent, Secretary ECP Ishtiak Ahmad Khan said that the LG polls in the CBs required the parliament’s nod by means of the passage of a related bill seeking amendments in the Cantonment Act 1924. “Now there isn’t enough time for legislation. As a stopgap arrangement, the presidential ordinance has to be promulgated that is to seek the Parliament’s nod, later, in order to become a proper law,” he said.

Earlier, Ishtiak Khan told the journalists that LG polls in the 42 CBs would be held expectedly in November’s first week. He said, the MoD would submit a civil miscellaneous application (CMA) in the SC seeking more time in this regard.

In the story headlined “LG polls in CBs not expected before year-end,” printed on Wednesday last, The Nation had reported, on account of the apparent negligence of the ministry, the LG polls might not be held before this November or December.

In July this year, the ECP had recommended to the defence ministry to contact the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs for parliamentary legislation on amendments in the Cantonment Act 1924, which the ministry never reportedly did. Only recently did the defence ministry move a related summary to the law ministry for the promulgation of a presidential ordinance. Skipping important cantonments such as Sui, Narowal, Jacobabad, Sukkur, Swat, Hangu, Khuzdar, Sibbi, Rahim Yar Khan and Kohlu, the MoD has prepared the details of 43 CBs that have 250 seats comprising of 203 ward and 47 reserved seats and 18,49,445 votes comprising of 1,003,104 male and 846,341 female votes.

Last month, the MoD had directed the cantonment executive officers (CEOs) to hear and dispose off complaints regarding the LG elections arrangements in the 43 CBs within 15 days, by September 7. From September 8, the ECP-established 29 Appellate Authorities have started hearing complaints and appeals for 15 days against the CEOs decisions, till September 22.