ISLAMABAD - The governments of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab on Wednesday assured the Supreme Court of holding Local Body (LB) elections, but now the election commission has expressed inability to hold the elections this year citing a number of reasons, including slackness and unresponsiveness of the provinces on the issue.

Heading a three member bench hearing the LB polls case, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry warned the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of constitutional consequences if it delayed the local elections. He also remarked that the Attorney General should explain why the polls are being delayed in the federal capital territory.

Punjab and Balochistan advocate generals informed the bench that all the formalities regarding holding of LG polls were complete and the two provinces were ready to hold elections on December 7 this year. They submitted affirmative statements on behalf of the provincial governments. Sindh representative said the government wanted to hold union councils elections on November 27, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad Capital Territory are still without the required law for holding of LG polls.

Appearing on behalf of ECP, lawyer Akram Sheikh informed the court that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) needed 2-3 months for examining compatibility of electoral rolls with the delimitation and at least 30 days for the printing of ballot papers and appointment of Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers.

He submitted a concise statement reading that after the 18th Amendment several letters were written to the provinces, even after the General Elections 2013, to send the laws and rules for holding LG polls, but no provincial government was able to fulfil the prerequisites.

It further stated that the provinces have done the delimitation on the basis of old blocks, while the existing electoral rolls have been prepared on the basis of new census blocks, conducted by Statistic Division in 2011. The housing census had increased the number of census blocks from 102,000 to 140,000.

“If the provinces delimit the local council/wards on the old census blocks then it will not be possible for Nadra to prepare a fresh electoral rolls for the conduct of local government elections unless once again a door-to-door verification exercise is carried out to reconcile the electoral rolls with the delimitation carried out by the provinces,” said Akram Sheikh.

He informed that to resolve the issues the ECP has constituted four committees at provincial level to carry out pilot exercise in one district of each province to see the compatibility of the electoral rolls with the delimitation carried out by the provincial governments. If any irreconcilable incompatibility of electoral rolls with the delimitation is found, the ECP will have to prepare the electoral rolls afresh, which will require at least 2 to 3 months.

The statement also said that if a province provides prerequisites (law, rules and delimitation) along with formal request for holding elections then the commission will commence the process of LB elections in that province. However, the commission needed at least 30 days time for the printing of ballot papers and the appointment of Returning Officer and Assistant Returning Officers, before issuance of election schedule. It said that the Central Committee, comprising chief secretaries of all the provinces, representatives of Nadra, Printing Corporation of Pakistan, Statistic Division, Finance Division and the Ministry of Interior has been constituted to review the laws/rules provided by the provinces.

The chief justice in view of the ECP statement inquired from Additional Advocate General Shah Khawar what should the court do now. The AAG requested the court to show ‘forgiveness and restraint’, as there is no mens rea (criminal intent) to implement the constitutional provision (Article 140A) and efforts were being made to hold LB polls.

Earlier, KPK AG Abdul Latif Yousafzai informed the court that the bill for LB system had been tabled in the in the provincial assembly, and hopefully it would be passed it this session. He said the provincial government had been simultaneously working on framing the rules for Local Government elections and the delimitation process in the KPK.

The chief justice asked what would happen if the assembly session continues for a month or so. He added that failure to implement the law and constitution was beyond comprehension. Holding LB elections is the constitutional responsibility of the governments, he said. The bench after hearing all the parties adjourned the case until October 25.