ISLAMABAD - Even though it has demonstrated plain inability to honour the Supreme Court’s directives on holding the local government elections in Punjab and Sindh this month, the electoral body has suddenly moved to modify the polls schedule, in a move that comes as more of a face-saving exercise.

The Election Commission of Pakistan said on Saturday that it was ‘pleased’ to modify the dates for withdrawal of candidature and display of final list of candidates fixed respectively as January 15 and January 16 for Punjab and Sindh, where the LG elections were scheduled on January 30 and January 18, but are unlikely after the commission backtracked from its high-sounding statements uttered a number of times to honour the SC order on this count.

The decision to change the LG poll schedule, which appears nothing more than a futile exercise against the backdrop of clear indications that the poll authority is in no mood to hold the LG polls on the prescribed dates, has surprised a former ECP boss.

“The ECP is playing a dual game by resorting to skin-saving exercises only to avoid embarrassment. On one hand it wants delay in LG polls and on the other hand, it modifies the related schedule as if the polls would be held as per the timeline. That’s not something new but one of the longstanding traditions of the commission to skip embarrassment,” said former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad.

Recently, the Punjab and Sindh High Courts ruled against the delimitation of constituencies for LG polls conducted by the respective provincial governments, and ordered to conduct fresh delimitations and meet the related constitutional requirements. This development caused an imminent delay in the LG polls. Even prior to that, the ECP had expressed its inability to hold the LG polls in the two provinces during a briefing given to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs by Additional Secretary ECP Syed Sher Afgan.

The matter is presently pending before the SC, which has rejected prolonged delay in the LG polls and the ECP has proposed February 23 and March 13 dates for Sindh and Punjab respectively.

“What is the point in making bureaucratic moves as amending the LG polls schedule when it loses any legality or importance after the high courts issued respective rulings? The fresh LG polls means the amendments and modifications (in polls schedule) can wait till the new dates are finalised,” Dilshad commented.

The ECP last year recommended the January 18 and January 30 dates for LG elections in Sindh and Punjab respectively, which the court approved. But after all the pre-poll electoral arrangements were done with and the candidates were extensively engaged in their respective campaigns, the ECP backtracked from its stance saying the LG polls were not possible on the given dates, since, it said, the printing of 3oo million ballot papers in Punjab and 130 million in Sindh required at least five to six weeks, which, the commission ‘discovered,’ was not possible by the prescribed LG polls timeline.