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Court gives govt 10 days to justify union councils’ increase in Islamabad

Court gives govt 10 days to justify union councils’ increase in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has given the federal government 10 days – the time period required by the election watchdog to conduct elections on 101 union councils (UCs) – to justify the increase in the number of UCs in Islamabad at a time when local government (LG) elections were just a few days away.

A division bench hearing intra-court appeals against an earlier order of the single-member bench also sought minutes of the cabinet meeting and the subsequent summary for an increase in the number of UCs. The court will examine if the decision to increase the number of constituencies from 101 to 125 was “inevitable”.

During the hearing, Advocate Minhas, who was representing voters from nine UCs whose names were registered in other union councils, argued before the court that the voters were the real stakeholders. The beneficiaries, including political parties and candidates, have gone into litigation and were insisting to hold these elections on ‘polluted’ electoral rolls, he said, referring to the ‘erroneous’ voters list.

Mr Minhas pointed out that about 10,000 voters were registered in UCs than their own.

Citing an earlier order of IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, the counsel said the court on Dec 23 asked the ECP to look into these inconsistencies; however, the ECP did not bother to address the grievances of the aggrieved voters.

Election Commission says can conduct polls in capital’s 101 union councils in seven to 10 days

‘Voters list’

At this, ECP’s Director General Law Mohammad Arshad informed the court that the ECP convened the court on Dec 28 but only a single petitioner showed up. That person was told to report to the district election commissioner for the correction of his name, he added.

Qazi Adil Aziz advocate, another appellant in this case, argued that since the ECP had already postponed the elections on Dec 27, the aggrieved voters did not appear before the commission the next day for rectification of electoral rolls.

He said Justice Arbab Mohammad Tahir ordered the election watchdog to hold the elections on Dec 31 without even providing him an opportunity for hearing.

Additional Attorney General Barrister Munawar Iqbal Duggal told the court that the single-member bench did not hear the federal government regarding the petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).

Justice Farooq remarked that the government could have placed the relevant documents before the court to substantiate the notification that increased the UCs.

The chief justice said the federal government was obligated to justify the increase in UCs, or else the court would issue an order to hold the LG polls on 101 UCs.

Advocate Qazi Adil apprised the court that the new law on LG elections in the federal capital also introduced direct elections for the Islamabad mayor; previously there was no law for the direct election for the coveted seat.

Justice Farooq observed that the court would not take into account proposed legislation unless it becomes the law. Barrister Duggal told the court that since the president did not accord his assent to the law and returned it to the federal cabinet, therefore, a joint session has been summoned to deliberate upon the bill.

The IHC CJ quipped that perhaps the law officer appeared before the court without even reading the newspaper. “The president has declined the requisition for the joint session,” said Justice Farooq. He was of the view that the federal government was under obligation to prove its bonafide for enhancing the UCs’ number, as prima face there was no need for such an increase at this stage.

He inquired from the ECP how much time was required to conduct LG polls on 101 UCs. The ECP official responded that the LG elections could be held in seven to 10 days. At this, Justice Farooq gave the federal government 10 days to justify the UCs notification issued on Dec 19 and adjourned the hearing till Jan 19.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2023

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