Elections may be held on previous demarcation, hints ECP

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Asks PBS to publish census data by July

 

 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday declared that the next general elections would be held on the basis of the previous demarcation of the constituencies if the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) failed to officially publish the census data by June or July this year.

The announcement was made by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Additional Secretary Zafar Iqbal while briefing the participants of a meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs in Islamabad at PIPS.

The census is being conducted for a formulation of state policies, distribution of resources among the federating units and a fresh demarcation of the constituencies.

The opposition parties have been demanding new delimitations for a long time now for the carrying out of fair elections as the previous delimitations were conducted during the tenure of General (R) Pervez Musharraf in the year 2002.

Delimitation is a prerogative of (the) ECP, informed the ECP additional secretary to the committee.

He added that delimitation could be made by the ECP in the month of September 2017, ‘if required’,” an official handout said.

The additional secretary said that it needed at least six months before the elections to complete new delimitation process, failing to which the elections would be held on previous delimitations.

Election Commission of Pakistan former Secretary Kanwar Mohammad Dilshad termed the statement of the ECP additional secretary as “incorrect and misleading”.

“In my humble view, next elections without fresh delimitations would be a violation of the article 224 of the constitution and section 7 and 10 of the Delimitation Act 1974,” Dilshad said while talking to Pakistan Today.

He said that the current delimitations were conducted in the year 2002 on the basis of the statistics of 1998 census.

“If the elections of 2018 are also held on the basis of 1998 census, the elections conducted would be illegal and unconstitutional. Moreover, if the election commission wanted to conduct the elections with delimitations of 2002 based on 1998 census, why it was raising demands for a new census?”, he argued.

Dilshad said that the outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice (R) Anwar Zaheer Jamali, in his remarks during a case related to the ECP, had said that if next elections were held without fresh delimitation, it would tantamount to be a “joke” to the nation.

Delimitation: a must per ECP’s own strategic plan

In its ambitious five-year strategic plan unveiled by the ECP in April 2014,  the commission had put two major targets to achieve for holding the 2018 general polls – Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and completing the delimitation of constituencies through the Geographic Information System (GIS).

“To avoid gerrymandering – the practice of drawing boundaries of constituencies to establish a political advantage for a group, the ECP plans to delimit constituencies by using the Geographical Information System (GIS). However, new delimitations are conditional to a fresh population census, which is due since 2008. ECP in its strategic plan has once again asked the government to complete fresh census by next year,” an excerpt from the plan says.

The national and provincial assembly constituencies were delimited in 2002 on the basis of the 1998 population census. The 2008 general elections and the 2013 polls were conducted on the basis of 2002 delimitations. The new census would result in an increase in a number of seats in the legislative in accordance with the ratio of population increase.

 Politicians for fresh delimitations

A senior leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Shafqat Mahmood said that fresh delimitations were long overdue so the ECP must cater to its responsibility once the census is being carried out.

“Though, the PTI is yet to discuss this issue. But in my personal view, delimitations must be conducted before the next elections. I understand there are problems in the delimitation process but the ECP must ensure fresh delimitations before polls,” he added.

Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Secretary Information Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed said that the statement by the ECP senior official was alarming.

“The entire census process till date has been dubious. Why are the targets set by the authorities for the census not being shared with the public at large? Why has no data on house census been shared with political parties and the public at large? This should have been done by now,” he said.

Replying to a question, Chaudhry Manzoor said making data public was important as all blocks would be developed on the basis of the house census.

“The Statistics Division should share house census with political parties and the election commission so as blocks could be formed for delimitation process”.

The PPP leader said there was no reason for not holding the delimitation process before the next elections as all process would be completed before September if there was nothing fishy.

“PPP wants delimitation before elections. We also demand data sharing on time and nothing should be hidden from the political parties and the public at large,” he concluded.