ISLAMABAD - The poll authority and provincial government continue to lock horns over the conduct of local government elections in Sindh, with strikingly contradicting versions on the issue coming from the two sides.

While the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) claims that the chief secretary Sindh has assured the commission of holding the LG elections on January 18, the Sindh government denies giving any such assurance, saying the conduct of LG polls was not possible on the prescribed date.

The ECP said it held a meeting with Chief Secretary Sindh Sajjad Saleem Hotiana on Thursday on LG polls issue. “The chief secretary assured the commission that the elections will be held on January 18, 2014, the date already fixed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” it said in a statement.

The commission may issue the election schedule on December 18, the statement added.

Earlier on Wednesday, according to the statement, the ECP held a meeting in connection with holding LG elections in Sindh attended by the province’s chief secretary, secretary local government and advocate general “wherein the advocate general requested for a day’s time to go back to Karachi to consult with the chief minister on the issue.”

On the other hand, Sindh Local Government and Information Minister Sharjeel Memon stuck to the Sindh government’s stance seeking delay in the conduct of LG elections by March next year. He denied that the province’s governmental machinery gave any assurance to the ECP for having the LG polls held on January 18.

When told about the ECP statement about the chief secretary’s assurance, the minister said, “I don’t know in what context did he (chief secretary) said this or what made the ECP issue this statement. I am sure this statement is issued out of context. We stand our ground in our contention that the LG polls conduct is not possible in January and the polls should be delayed at least by March next year.”

Memon said the provinces were constitutionally entitled to fix the LG polls date as per their convenience. When reminded that the SC had fixed the LG polls dates for Sindh and Punjab after getting the ECP and provincial government’s input, the minister said the Sindh Government would move the apex court. Earlier on Wednesday, the Sindh High Court (SHC) rejected Sindh Government’s request for delay in the LG elections till March.

“We’ll move the apex court because extensive electoral preparations cannot be made if the polls are held on given date,” Memon told The Nation.  

A senior ECP official, requesting anonymity, said the commission’s Elections Branch had shown flexibility to the Sindh Government’s demand for LG polls delay but the Acting Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk took a strong stand to conduct the LG polls on January 18. “The CEC is of the view that the SC’s order must be implemented in letter and spirit,” the official said.

Earlier this month, the ECP had rejected Punjab and Sindh’s pleas to extend the LG polls date.

“Why the Sindh Government is adamant to get the LG polls delayed has much to do with the lenience and flexibility shown by the senior management at our Elections Branch,” the official informed. 

The ECP’s Additional Secretary and Director General (Elections) Syed Sher Afgan did not respond to the calls at his cell phone seeking his version on the issue whereas Chief Secretary Sindh Sajjad Hotiana refused to comment.

The ECP source believed the chief secretary Sindh had close association with the Federal Government and his assuring the ECP on LG polls conduct in January without consulting the provincial government might be linked to it.

Last month, the Federal Government had replaced Ejaz Chaudhry with Sajjad Saleem Hotiana as Chief Secretary Sindh without ECP’s approval, in violation of the commission’s Code of Conduct that barred transfers and postings in the province ahead of the LG polls, without commission’s approval.

The polls were scheduled in the province on November 27, then. The ECP ordered the Federal Government to reverse its orders on chief secretary’s replacement after the related stories on the ECP’s Code of Conduct violation were published in The Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt on November 10. After the SC allowed extension in the polls date, the ECP cancelled the LG polls schedule for Sindh and thus withdrew its order on the reversal of chief secretary Sindh’s appointment orders, which allowed Hotiana to remain Chief Secretary Sindh.  

The LG polls in Punjab and Balochistan were originally scheduled on December 7 and Sindh on November 27. Citing extensive electoral preparations, the ECP moved the SC suggesting to hold the LG polls in Punjab and Sindh on January 30 and January 18, which the SC allowed.

The ECP says the local bodies elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and Cantonment Boards (CBs) would be held before February 28. The only province where the LG polls have been held on the prescribed date is Balochistan. The LG polls schedule for Punjab has been issued.