ISLAMABAD: The Coalition for Elections and Democracy (CED), a coalition of leading civil society organisations, on Monday expressed concern over the recent decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to suspend the local governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, saying it is inconsistent with the Constitution.
The coalition, which has a record of promoting democratic development, human rights, and social inclusion, said the ECP’s decision is not in line with best practices and will further weaken the already struggling local governments.
The CED has requested the ECP to reconsider its decision and restore the local governments, pointing out that the suspension of local governments is inconsistent with the Constitution and multiple orders of the superior judiciary.
The coalition argued that there is no justification for disrupting the tenure of elected institutions without clear and specific legal grounds, and that the suspension of local governments will have a disruptive effect on the functioning of elected councils, development planning, and the delivery of services.
It highlighted that the local governments are established under Article 140-A of the Constitution and, hence, their suspension amounts to suspension of a constitutional provision. The ECP, being itself a constitutional body, must exercise extreme caution in deciding about the fate of elected bodies established by or under the Constitution, it added.
The CED pointed out that it is not a strong and cogent argument that free and fair election of a provincial assembly cannot be held without suspending the local governments. “By this logic, the federal government should also be suspended, as it too can use the powers and resources at its disposal to influence the outcome of provincial assembly elections.”
Moreover, it asked if free and fair local government elections can be held in the presence of provincial governments, then why is it not possible the other way around?
The CED requested the ECP to consider that hardly in any democracy around the world the elected institutions at one tier are suspended to ensure free and fair elections for the other tier. The coalition contended that the electoral body has ample powers to ensure the neutrality of local governments without suspending them, and it should enhance its own capacity for oversight and timely interventions to stop any questionable practices.
The coalition is of the view that following their restoration, the ECP can still ensure free and fair elections with its resolve for neutral conduct, robust monitoring, and timely actions aimed at addressing any concerns or complaints.
“We believe that the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan is not in the best interests of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and we call for its immediate reversal,” said Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, national coordinator of the CED and executive director of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI).
“We are of the view that the ECP must be able to hold free and fair elections without undermining the rights of the people to representation at local levels. The suspension of local governments at this time of the year, when the budget is prepared and annual planning for the next year is taking place, is hugely disruptive, and will affect the functioning of local governments not only during this financial year but also in the next financial year,” he said.