Khyber province may not meet poll deadline

March 18, 2014 - 7:12:12 am
ISLAMABAD: Local government (LG) elections in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province are due on April 30 but with a long things-to-do list and disagreements, officials believe that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led provincial government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) cannot meet the deadline.

Despite persistent pressure from the Supreme Court, none of the provinces, except Balochistan, have any working local government system — a promise all the political parties made in their manifestos before last year’s general elections.

Last week, the apex court asked the Punjab and Sindh governments to submit in writing by March 19 a final date on which the LG polls will be held. PTI was one of the parties that had promised to devolve powers to local bodies within six months of coming to power but it has been struggling to keep that promise.

According to ECP officials, the KP government has sent them copies of their local government laws, relevant rules and the notification of delimitations the three prerequisites for the polls on March 10. ECP is reviewing these documents and is expected to complete its review by March 20.

“But there are certain areas where KP would have to make further changes in their LG laws and rules. It will need to go to the provincial assembly again,” a senior official at the ECP’s law wing remarked. He did not disclose the clauses that need changes. Once these prerequisites are fulfilled, it will take ECP at least 45 days to organise the polls.

However, the KP government has an ambitious demand that is believed to be the main cause of the delay: incorporating the biometrics voter verification system in the polling process. ECP officials say once a final decision is taken to use digital technology, the process to procure and install biometric machines would take at least three months.

Moreover, the KP government and the election commission are not on the same page on the use of the biometric system either. ECP wants to use this technology in limited constituencies as a pilot project to test its results.

However, PTI insists on using the biometric machines to verify the identity of voters all over the province. “The local bodies’ elections will not be possible before June or July if we have to use the biometric verification devices,” an official of ECP’s IT department categorically said.