ISLAMABAD: A last-minute somersault by the top leadership of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) over its pledged support to the most significant delimitation bill has put a serious question mark over the possibility of timely legislation for new delimitations, failing which could jeopardise the holding of next general elections on time, Pakistan Today has learnt reliably.
Sources in the ruling and major opposition parties told Pakistan Today that some hidden hands had moved in to get a pledge of support from the PPP reversed in order to get the government bill delayed.
A senior leader in the PPP told this scribe that the party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had directed the party’s parliamentary party in the upper house of the parliament on Sunday to extend conditional support to the federal government’s delimitation bill.
“Chairman Bilawal had directed the party to lend support to the delimitation bill seeking assurance from the treasury benches that the bill would only be implemented in the next elections. Moreover, we were also able to secure federal government’s assurance that reservations by the PPP about alleged irregularities in the census conducted in Sindh would be reviewed,” the source said.
The source added that Monday was a private member’s day in the Senate; therefore, the federal government could not table the bill.
“But the same day, I heard a very strange information that our parliamentary leader in the Senate Taaj Haider had informed the ruling party in the Senate business advisory committee that the PPP would not support the government bill until and unless it gets clear assurances from the federal government that its concerns on the census would be addressed,” the source said.
The source added that his apprehension was that something fishy was going on and some ‘non-political elements’ might be playing to get the bill delayed.
Asked whether the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and other parties were going to support the bill, the source said after the government got assurances from other parties, it should have gone ahead with the bill.
“I feel, despite the public announcement, PTI, MQM and other smaller parties may also not support the bill. This is perhaps the reason behind the government not tabling the bill,” the source asserted.
The source added that this was the reason that the government did not include the delimitation bill in the agenda on Tuesday.
“Whenever we have our items to be voted upon, we are normally intimated by the party leadership to ensure a presence in the house. We have not received any intimation from the party for ensuring attendance in today’s (Wednesday’s) session, which means that the bill is again not on the agenda,” the source added.
When contacted, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the upper house of the parliament, Senator Taaj Haider confirmed that the party was yet to decide on its support to the government’s bill and wanted the government to respond to its proposals submitted on post-census enumerations.
When asked whether Bilawal had directed the party to support the government’s bill in Sunday’s meeting, Taaj Haider said he had got no such direction. He also admitted that he had informed Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq during the business advisory meeting held on Monday that the PPP would not lend its support to the government bill.
“When I asked Raja sahib why the PML-N did not respond to my proposals yet, he said he had sent the two-page document to the prime minister to take a decision. So the ball is in the government’s court now,” he said.
Taaj Haider said the PPP wanted the government to give assurances on its post-census enumeration (PCE).
“A census verification commission consisting of three recognised demographers should be appointed with mutual consultation for duration of three months to undertake the PCE and to submit its final report. This is not the job of commercial audit firms or chartered accountants. This job is that of qualified and recognised demographers. No commercial tenders are required. The Commission members can be paid a reasonable honorarium,” said Taaj, elaborating on his party’s proposals.
“Moreover, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has [also] become highly controversial. Its part in PCE should be restricted to providing logistic and administrative assistance to the commission. No one from the PBS should be included in the commission itself,” he added.
He said the Census Block to be included in PCE should be selected on the basis of random sampling programme by computer on district level. This will cover not only inter-province but also inter-district migration, he added.
“Migrants and illegals were excluded from the count because of the de jure method of enumeration that registered residents on their original place of residence, and not on their present place of residence. The condition of showing NADRA identification also excluded those who did not have identity cards. Adjustments can be made for those who have been temporarily displaced because of security reasons,” he added.
He said the PCE should be conducted in randomly selected blocks on a de facto method, which counts every resident who was in a place of residence the previous night. It also records births and deaths in the house during the last one year, he added.
“Curfew should be imposed in the selected blocks for a day to carry out the post-enumeration survey in a professional manner. This is a normal practice in so many countries. Imposing curfew and security in selected blocks should be the role of the Army. Army should not be involved with enumeration as was done in census 2017,” he added.
He said enumeration should be done on templates, and the data should be transmitted online after counting each house to the office of the commission and the provincial government.
“The templates on which census is being conducted all over the world are available in the office of the United Nation Population Fund and Serena Hotel Islamabad, and are returnable after use. An added advantage is that the totaling of each surveyed block, district and provinces is done by computers without any lapse of time. The results can be known instantly,” he asserted.
He opined that the UN Population Fund can also give consultancy services to give technical inputs to the census commission to carry out PES in an internationally recognised manner.
“A variance of plus-minus one per cent between the census 2017 figures and post-enumeration survey (PES) is statistically tolerable. Any variance beyond these limits should be incorporated in final census figures,” he asserted.
Taaj Haider said chapter III of ‘The Election Act 2017’ deals with delimitation of constituencies in its Sections 17, 18 and 19.
“Section 20 lays down the ‘Principles of Delimitation’. PPP feels that delimitations according to the principles laid down in Section 20 can be carried out in a very short time by the experienced staff of federal and provincial election commissions assisted by the provincial governments,” he said.
Taaj Haider said Section 21 subsection (3) lays down a period of 30 days for receiving representations in respect of delimitations.
“PPP feels that if the delimitations are done according to principles laid down in section 20, the representations will be very few. However, if there are a high number of representations then more tribunals can be constituted to decide upon the representations. Therefore, there is enough time to do the delimitations, and the shortage of time should not be made an excuse for endorsing a fraud of high order,” he maintained. He recalls that in 2013 elections, constituencies were revised even 15 days before the flections.
“Our recommendations are based on internationally recognised principles and methods, and will make the census credible and acceptable. The government should not have any hesitation in adopting these recommendations and holding the national elections on time,” he concluded.