Sindh government ignores Sindh High Court deadline for Local Bodies polls
By: Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: The Sindh Government has gone against the Sindh High Court (SHC) order to hold local bodies’ elections within 90 days, a deadline that expired four days back, while other provinces also have no plan to organize the exercise in the near future despite the Supreme Court directives.
A declaration of Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khurshid Shah on Tuesday has made it clear that the Sindh Government will not bow before the SHC order in the remaining months of its tenure, ending in March next.
“Local bodies’ elections could not be held before the general polls as Pakistan could not afford the two and as it would not be a financially viable option. These elections would take place after the general polls,” he said.
It is widely believed that among other considerations, the long outstanding resolution of differences between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) over keeping the Musharraf introduced district governments’ system or replacing it with the old local council scheme has been a principal hurdle in holding local elections in Sindh. The two coalition partners are yet to fully reach consensus on the draft local law that has been prepared by the PPP.
Taking notice of the delay in local elections, the SHC ordered the Sindh government on May 18 to hold the exercise within 90 days as it is a constitutional necessity in the light of the Supreme Court ruling. Local polls have not taken place since Musharraf’s districts governments’ tenure ended in 2009.
In April, the Supreme Court directed the provincial governments to immediately announce the local polls’ schedule.
At another occasion, during a hearing in Balochistan, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry remarked that powers to hold local elections have been devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, but they have not fulfilled their constitutional obligation. He directed the chief secretaries of all provinces to submit a report on the delay.
Neither the ruling coalition nor the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) seems pushed to hold local polls. At the same time, no ruling party wants to organize local elections on party basis although top PPP leaders have consistently scoffed at the Punjab Government for announcing to hold non-party polls. “Party-less local elections have been a tradition of the dictatorship,” Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira recently said. However, the local laws of Sindh and Balochistan where the PPP is in power provide for party-less local polls.
Section 37-A (bar on party basis polls) of the Sindh law says that no person contesting local election shall use the name, flag, symbol or ticket of a political party or its platform or support nor shall he raise any ethnic or regional slogans: Provided that a candidate shall not be disqualified from contesting election by reason of his being a member of a political party. It further says that if the Election Authority, after such inquiry as it deems fit, is satisfied that any person is acting or has been elected in contravention of this provision, it shall order that he shall cease to be a candidate for such election or, as the case may be, to be a member, and shall stand disqualified for being elected as a member for a period of four years.
Balochistan, where the PPP chief minister leads the multiparty coalition, also prohibits party-based local polls. Section 25 of its law says election to local councils shall be held on non-party basis. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa law too has a similar provision to hold party-less election.
When the Punjab cabinet recently decided to hold non-party polls, the PPP directed its guns at the PML-N, saying that excluding political parties from such elections could only be done by dictators, not by democratic governments and political parties.
Like Sindh, the Punjab Government is also yet to enact a law to decide whether the future local elections will be party-based or party-less. However, it is inclined to have non-party elections on the pattern of the other three provinces.
The first local elections held in 1979 during General Ziaul Haq’s rule were on non-party basis, which were organized to divert people’s attention from the demand of general polls. Pervez Musharraf also did the same with the same purpose but under a new name, the district governments’ system.