After hearing the respondents and individuals aggrieved by the amended poll schedule, the Supreme Court has ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to make a judgement on the second phase of local government (LG) elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by Tuesday (today).
The ECP has previously extended the date for the second phase of LG elections in KP from March 27 to March 31, following the top court’s suspension of the Peshawar High Court’s ruling postponing the polls on February 1.
On Monday, the Supreme Court stated that it did not want to set a bad precedent by suspending the election schedule, and instead asked the ECP to issue an appropriate order after hearing from the aggrieved parties and respondents, namely the KP chief secretary, secretary of the Local Government Election and Rural Development Department, Fida Muhammad, and Gul Badshah.
The ECP’s lawyer, Afnan Karim Kundi, contended that the vote date had already been extended to March 31 to account for the delay imposed by the PHC decision.
The deadline has already been extended to March 31 by the Commission.
The second round of LG votes in 18 districts of KP was supposed to take place in the fourth week of January, but the ECP rescheduled it after receiving applications from local MNAs and MPAs on Dec 30, 2021.
The ECP issued a notification on January 20 this year announcing the holding of the second phase of LG elections in KP on March 27.
However, after receiving petitions from residents of five districts in KP, the PHC’s Abbottabad bench issued a verbal order postponing the elections on the grounds that these districts were expected to remain under snow in the last week of March due to heavy snow accumulation, making it impossible to set up polling stations, dispatch polling staff, and procure necessary record and other instruments.
Shumail Butt, the KP Advocate General, spoke up against the revised election timetable during Monday’s session, claiming that the ECP had not consulted the province before announcing the new poll date. According to him, the province government’s support for the election postponement was based on a report provided by the armed forces.
Afnan Kundi, an ECP lawyer, claimed the KP government was not a party before the PHC and that the commission had issued a new schedule after the local government secretary agreed to the date. According to him, the commission argued in its appeal that the high court had postponed elections in 18 KP districts after petitioners from five separate districts contacted the court.
“Let’s close the ECP,” Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan lamented, adding that the KP government wanted the commission’s powers curtailed.
The ECP had sought leave to appeal the Feb. 1 PHC verbal order, claiming that the high court’s soon-to-be-announced written judgement would be inconsistent with the facts and law, and so liable to be set aside.
Under Articles 219(d), 222(d), and 222(f) of the Constitution, as well as Section 219 of the Elections Act 2017, the PHC ruling infringed on the ECP’s independence in holding the LG elections.
The verbal order, the appeal argued, interfered unduly with the ECP’s exclusive and specialised domain of conducting local government elections, including the announcement of the election programme — the date of the election and the schedule for various activities ranging from the issuance of public notice by returning officers inviting nomination papers to polling day and result consolidation.