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ISLAMABAD: Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Monday, reserved its verdict in the case related to local government elections in Sindh while the provincial government expressed its willingness to hold the LG polls in February or March next year - "if ECP so directs."

A three-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja heard the case regarding LG elections in Sindh. During the hearing, Special Secretary ECP Zafar Iqbal Hussain said that the term of local bodies in Sindh expired on August 30, 2020.

Constitutionally, the ECP was bound to hold LG elections in Sindh within 120 days of the expiry of local bodies' term, he said.

"But it seems that Sindh government is not serious at all in holding the LG polls- that's why it is not ready to provide us with any support," he remarked.

"No, we are absolutely serious. We would be bound to hold the LG polls-if ECP so directs-in February or March..." Advisor to the Chief Minister Sindh on Law and Administrator Karachi Barrister Murtaza Wahab said.

He said Sindh has 'serious reservations' over the results of population census 2017 that were notified after approval from the Council of Common Interests (CCI).

"Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah moved a dissenting note in CCI against the results of population census 2017. The population of Sindh and Balochistan has been shown far lesser than the actual population these two provinces have. Now, we want this mater to be referred to Parliament's joint session," he said.

Wahab asked the ECP to "play its role in pressing speaker National Assembly to refer this matter to Parliament's joint session. If this matter is not referred to Parliament, it would be a serious violation of the Constitution."

CEC Raja responded, "It's quite strange-PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) did not raise any objection over the provisional results of population census 2017 when it contested the general elections 2018. But now that these results have been notified, you are coming up with the excuse that LG elections cannot be held because your provincial government has reservations over population census results? Are the LG institutions not important at all for the provincial governments?"

The CEC said the ECP's decision in this case would be applicable on all provinces.

"We will take a decision in national interest," Raja said.

ECP Director General (Law) Muhammad Arshad addressed Wahab, "What if the Parliament meets its term and joint session regarding population census results is not summoned? Shall we keep waiting till then? The ECP cannot wait for Parliament's joint session. The LG elections have to be held as per the law and Constitution, and we will not wait."

"Whatever happens in 2023 (when Parliament meets its term) would be seen then. Anyway, whatever the ECP decides regarding LG polls would be acceptable to us," the advisor replied.

The ECP then reserved its decision.

"Unless the Parliament decides our case, it would be difficult for us to amend the local government law. The previous law is based on 1998 population on which fresh LG polls cannot be held," Wahab told the media outside ECP after the case hearing.

"If Parliament decides this matter, we would happily hold the LG elections in the next six months," he said.

On August 23, Sindh government, in a meeting with ECP, refused to hold LG elections and linked its decision to holding these polls with the redressal of its concerns with the federal government regarding the results of population census 2017; while ECP accused the provincial government of being non-serious in holding the LG polls.

Murtaza Wahab told the meeting that the provincial government had serious concerns over the results of population census 2017 notified on May 6 this year following their approval by the CCI.

Two days later, on August 25, ECP decided to take up the issue of LG elections in Sindh for regular hearing.

On August 26, ECP formed a committee tasked to review different options including the proposal to assign the provinces the complete responsibility of organising the LG polls if ECP's reliance on provinces regarding LG elections is not reduced through parliamentary legislation.

The committee is headed by the special secretary ECP and comprises of DG (law) and other senior officers.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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