Plan to use EVMs ‘stunt’ to delay Punjab LG polls: CEC

The Punjab government’s move to conduct local government polls through electronic voting machines (EVMs) was “a stunt meant to drag feet on the already delayed electoral exercise,” Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja said on Tuesday.

The remarks came while the CEC was heading a three-member bench that heard the case relating to delay in the holding of LG polls.

During the hearing, Punjab Chief Secretary Abdullah Khan Sumbal said that Punjab Assembly has passed a bill to conduct the polls using EVMs and it will become law in the next 10 days.

“You have intentionally added EVMs to create problems,” CEC Raja said to Mr Sumbal.

He regretted that no government in the province was willing to hold local bodies elections.

ECP Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal Hussain informed the bench that the constituencies have already been delimited twice in the province and now the delimitation exercise will have to be conducted for a third time.

Mr Sumbal said the exercise will be completed soon and a constituency will be formed for every 25,000 people.

The CEC urged the Punjab government to provide prerequisites for holding the polls. He also directed the chief secretary to submit a letter to the Supreme Court where a reference had already been sent to express concerns over delays in holding the LG elections in Punjab.

In April 2019, Usman Buzdar-led Punjab government had dissolved local government institutions in Punjab, which were later restored by the Supreme Court. The term of those local bodies expired on Dec 31, 2021.

Subsequently, the provincial government amended the local bodies law several times ostensibly in an attempt to delay holding fresh polls. In September, the current assembly passed the Local Government Bill, 2021 repealing the Local Government Act, 2022 which was passed by the Hamza Shehbaz-led government in June.

The bill has done away with the middle tier — tehsil councils in rural and town councils in urban areas — of the local government system. It has also reduced the number of seats in a union council. The general seats of councillors were cut from six to five, women reserved seats from three to two and youths’ from two to one, whereas three seats were reserved for technocrats and two for disabled persons were also abolished.

Polls schedule for Balochistan

In a separate development, the ECP on Tuesday announced the schedule for polls on reserved seats for women, peasants, and non-Muslims in the local government institutions of Balochistan.

The polls will take place in all union councils, municipal corporations and municipal committees (except Quetta district, Lasbela, Hub and Municipal Committee Haramzai in Pishin district) of 32 districts of Balochistan.

According to an ECP notification, a public notice will be issued by the returning officers on Nov 1 while nomination papers can be filed by the candidates from Nov 7 to 9. The names of nominated candidates will be published on Nov 10.

The scrutiny of the nomination papers will be held from Nov 11 to 14 while appeals against the acceptance or rejection of the papers could be filed from Nov 15 to 17. The appellate bodies will decide the appeals by Nov 22 and a revised list of candidates will be published on Nov 23.

The last date for the withdrawal of the candidature is Nov 24, followed by the publication of the revised list of candidates along with election symbols on the same date. The candidates will be allotted election symbols on Nov 25.

The polling on indirect seats of union councils and urban local councils will be held on Dec 14 and declaration of results on form XXII by the returning officer will be made on Dec 12.

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