The Punjab government has at last expressed to the Supreme Court its willingness to hold local council elections, and has given a specific date, December 14. This was communicated by the Acting Advocate General in his submission to the two-judge Supreme Court bench hearing a petition for the holding of local council elections in the cantonment areas. While the Punjab is to be congratulated for having reached a decision at last, it was clearly unilateral, because it seemed that everyone had a different view of the matter.

The Cantonment boards, the Attorney General told the Court, which had earlier declared their readiness to hold elections on September 13, now wanted to hold them in the last week of November. He said that not only were certain amendments to the Cantonment Ordinance thought desirable, but fresh delimitations were required. The Sindh government, through its Additional Advocate General, promised to hold elections conditional on the law and order situation. In an earlier hearing, it had committed to November 27. However, now that there is an operation going on to bring law and order to Karachi, which is the province’s largest local council there seems to be a reluctance to hold elections.

The picture emerging is not edifying. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have not given any date at all, while the others have given divergent dates, showing that there has been no mutual consultation of the sort essential to presenting a single date, which is what the Supreme Court seems to be looking for. There seems to be a covert attempt to come up with a date that will take everyone past the retirement of the Chief Justice, but this should not be the case, and it should be noted that the bench’s observations during Monday’s hearing were an indication that his retirement has no relevance. “We want that whatever is in the Constitution is implemented.” That indicates that the Court as a whole, and not just any individual judge, does not see the holding of local body polls as anything more than an implementation of the Constitution. Another indication of why the Court will insist no matter which individuals are on the Court: “The same commitments were made thrice in the past…” Defiance of court orders is not an option, and Tuesday’s hearing saw the Court remark that if the Punjab government had any reluctance, it should make it public.

The provincial and federal governments should not have needed the Supreme Court to get them to agree to hold local body polls. They should mutually agree a date, tell the Supreme Court and stick to it. The present reluctance and vacillation is unbecoming.