Polls on time, provinces agree in CCI meeting

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Pic13-097 ISLAMABAD: Nov 13 – Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chairs 33rd meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) at PM Office. ONLINE PHOTO
  • Ahsan Iqbal replaces Ishaq Dar as CCI member
  • Sindh CM seeks re-verification of census results by third party
  • PM’s aide says work on fresh delimitations will be initiated after audit

ISLAMABAD: The Council of Common Interests (CCI) on Monday reached a consensus on rechecking/auditing of the provisional census results from a third party to gauge the reliability of the census data and conduct of the next general elections on time.

The 33rd session of the CCI, presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was attended by the four chief ministers as well as selected members of the federal government, including secretaries.

“The federal government has, while admitting the right of Sindh to check the record of the census and its verification, accepted all demands of the Pakistan People’s Party-led government to some extent,” said sources privy to the development.

They said the federal government agreed to dispel the reservations raised by the provinces over the results of the census, especially Sindh, besides re-verification of the provisional results, which would take three months.

“(This) agreement will be applicable to all provinces…and they can ask for rechecking of the census results,” added the sources.

During the meeting, officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) told the participants that conducting the general elections in 2018 on the basis of the 1988 census would be impossible.

The chief ministers of Punjab and Sindh expressed their reservations over the results of the latest census.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said if the results were verified by a neutral third party, the province would accept its findings.

Upon this, Prime Minister Abbasi agreed to have the results of specific census blocks in Sindh verified, after which the province supported the bill for fresh delimitation of constituencies in accordance with the latest population figures.

The Sindh CM, according to the sources, also recommended the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) published the census results as early as possible, while the chief ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa demanded the release of the facts and figures about the foreigners currently residing in Pakistan.

The sources, however, added that “all the provinces have shown determination to hold the next general elections on time”.

Addressing a presser following the CCI meeting, Special Assistant to PM Musadik Malik announced that the issue of new delimitation of constituencies for the National Assembly had been resolved. Regarding the re-verification of the census results, he said a selection of one per cent of blocks would be carried out through machines to audit the census results with an aim to gauge the reliability of the provisional results.

According to the PM’s assistant, this audit will be done by the PBS through independent sources and the Bureau will be releasing the census results by the end of April next year. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would then require five months to conduct the elections, he said.

Musadik Malik said that a constitutional crisis had erupted following the controversy surrounding the census results, but it had been resolved and the next elections would be held on time. “Work on the fresh delimitation of constituencies will be initiated after constitutional amendments on the basis of audited census results,” he added.

AHSAN IQBAL REPLACES ISHAQ DAR

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, a CCI member, who is in London for over two weeks now, has been replaced by Planning and Reforms Minister Ahsan Iqbal — who also holds the portfolio for Interior Ministry.

Earlier in the day, a notification was issued, stating, “The president of Pakistan, on the advice of the prime minister, is pleased to approve the nomination of Federal Minister for Interior [Ahsan Iqbal] in place of Federal Minister for Finance [Ishaq Dar] from the federal government on the Council of Common Interests (CCI) with immediate effect and until further orders.”

CENSUS SAGA

The census results had become a bone of contention between Sindh and the federal government, with the former claiming that its population had been undercounted and the latter denying the same claims.

Since the announcement of the census’ provincial results, a deadlock between the federal government and Sindh government persisted. The controversy had created an obstruction in the passage of the required legislation on the delimitation of new constituencies as per the latest enumeration results.

Despite several sittings, the parliamentary parties had failed to reach a consensus on the issue of the new delimitation of constituencies for the National Assembly. The two major opposition parties had been opposing the legislation, as they kept on pressurising the government to address their grievance in this regard. Subsequently, the federal government on Thursday announced to convene a meeting of the Council of Common Interests to break the impasse over the issue.

Earlier, leaders of all parliamentary parties in the National Assembly had agreed in a session with Speaker Ayaz Sadiq over legislation for delimitation of constituencies in the light of the new census figures. Consequently, the constitutional amendment bill was tabled in the assembly for approval. However, the PPP and MQM-P backtracked, later on, insisting their reservations with regards to the census figures were addressed in the first place.

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