The Supreme Court has indicted the federal Defence Secretary for contempt of court, which is primarily an indication of how seriously it views the failure to hold local body elections, and also should serve as a warning to the federal and provincial governments of the perils of not holding these elections. This was decided by the Supreme Court on Friday after it heard the Defence Secretary, to whom it had issued the contempt notice on October 11, for not having held elections to the cantonment boards despite undertakings given in previous hearings of the case. The Defence Secretary, Lt Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik, had previously told the court that elections to the cantonment boards would be held on specific dates, but now told the Court that the Prime Minister was the competent authority. In the course of the proceedings by the five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Court also directed the Election Commission to hold local body polls in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab on the dates they had requested. The Federal (for the Islamabad Capital Territory) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments cannot give dates until they have completed legislative requirements,

The Supreme Court may have found useful its finding guilty of contempt a Prime Minister, which should have been a message to all government officials that the Supreme Court would not tolerate the violation of its orders. That the official was not protected by his former military rank should be an indicator of what fate might meet provincial officials, both permanent and elected, whether federal or provincial, who might delay the holding of local body elections beyond the dates already announced.

It is also worth noting that the Court is willing to have the provinces hold the elections on differing dates. It indicates the high priority it gives to the holding of elections. It would only be in the fitness of things if the federal government was to demonstrate the same determination by ensuring the necessary legislation is done. It is for situations like this, that the presidential power to promulgate ordinances is there. Such alacrity would also get the Defence Secretary off the hook.

The holding of local body elections is a duty of the provincial governments, and by the federal government in federally administered and cantonment areas. If the previous government ignored this requirement, the present government should not be following suit. It must follow the Constitution, and that too as interpreted by the Supreme Court. It must hold local body polls, and thus show its enthusiasm for democracy.