ISLAMABAD - In a sudden shift, the Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed rescheduling of Local Government (LG) elections, bringing a sigh of relief to the electoral body.

The same three-judge SC bench, which had twice rejected the pleas of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to delay the polling dates, allowed the commission to hold LG polls in Punjab and Sindh in January next year.

The polls would now be held on January 18, 2014 in Sindh, on January 30 in Punjab, and on any date in February in KPK and cantonment boards. However, the polls in Balochistan would be held as per the earlier fixed date –December 7.

Reportedly, a senior ECP official wrote a letter to the SC registrar, explaining the problems with holding elections on the earlier announced dates. The registrar asked for a new schedule, which was duly supplied through a second letter. The letter was then converted into a petition and the relaxation granted.

The sudden change of heart notably came only a day after the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution, the second within a week, pressing for “practical dates” to hold LG polls. The MPs had also vented out anger and frustration as they believed that the SC was not paying heed to legitimate logistic and technical constraints such as printing of ballot papers and procurement of magnetic ink pads, which are used to verify thumb impressions in case of bogus votes claims.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Attorney General Pakistan Munir A Malik informed the court that the federal government has requested the ECP to hold elections but the commission asked the federation to fulfil certain requirements and the same would be done in the due course.

The Sindh government on Tuesday requested the court to change the poll date to Dec 7, 2013. The Punjab and the Balochistan did not make any request to the court for the change of dates. The KPK province did not file any request even with the ECP for holding of local bodies elections.

Speaking at a news conference after the court decision, ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan announced that the previous election schedules for Punjab and Sindh have been recalled, to be issued afresh along with the nomination forms. He said a meeting of all relevant federal and provincial authorities had been called at the ECP on the 19th of this month to chalk out a plan to hold elections. “After the meeting, the new schedule for local body polls will be announced,” he added.

To a question, the secretary said that thousands of people had submitted nomination forms in Punjab and Sindh but as the elections would be rescheduled they would have to submit the forms again. “However, they would not be required to deposit fee again,” he said.

To another query, he said that elections in Balochistan would be held as per earlier schedule, while the KPK, cantonment boards and Islamabad had been asked to fulfil requisites so that they could be given dates to hold elections in February.

According to an ECP insider, along with the cancellation of polls schedule for Punjab and Sindh, the commission has also withdrawn its order which had suspended appointment of new Sindh chief secretary and Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP) managing director. “The authorities concerned would be intimated shortly,” the official said.

The federal government last Saturday made new appointments on the two slots without seeking the ECP approval whereas the commission had barred the transfers and postings of civil servants in those provinces wherein the LG polls schedule were issued. The ECP had taken notice of the matter after the related stories appeared in The Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt on Sunday, and ordered suspension of these orders.

Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad said the commission had requested the court to allow it to change the schedule as credible elections were not possible in the given timeframe and the court granted it. The ECP was thankful to the court for this, he said. “The Supreme Court in its today’s order has also written that provincial governments and ECP seem committed to holding local body elections,” he added.