ISLAMABAD - Expressing its fears on possible delay in next general elections, the government Thursday informed the Senate that Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could seek guidance of the Supreme Court on delimitation of constituencies if the parliament did not move forward in this connection.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid told the house that the fears of delay in timely conduct of 2018 General Elections were looming large if the commission or some ordinary citizen approached the apex court seeking its instructions on the delimitation of constituencies on the basis of the results of 2017 census.

“The government wants elections on time,” he asserted.

Responding to queries of Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani, Hamid said the ECP had indicated it would go to the Supreme Court if the Parliament did not act in passing the required legislation for the fresh delimitation of constituencies and relocation of seats of the legislature. He deplored that the political parties were not ready to develop consensus to pass the constitution amendment bill seeking relocation of seats. Chairman Senate put a query to the minister whether the ECP was planning to go to the court on the issue.

“The commission views that it cannot close its eyes on the results of the census,” the minister said. He said that the bigger fear than this was if some ordinary citizen approached the court at later stage seeking increase of seats of National Assembly as well as provincial assemblies on the basis of census results.

The law minister explained that the ECP needed nine months, including five months for the fresh delimitation and four more months under the newly passed law for preparations of elections. “Thus the commission needed nine months to conduct the election,” he said. He said that if the commission waited for the final results of the census to be announced in April then delay in the election would be writing on the wall. He further said that there was no provision in the law that the government would issue a notification for delimitation on the basis of provisional results of census and a constitutional amendment was needed.

When the chair asked the minister that why did government not go to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to develop a consensus on the proposed bill, Hamid said the meeting of CCI had been summoned for next Monday to discuss the issue.

Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani questioned why the ECP did not invoke the Article 220 of the Constitution to bring into play the Article 219 which says that “commission shall be charged with the duty of… the holding of general elections to the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and the local governments.”  “What directions the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has given to the stakeholders,“ he questioned. The minister said that the commission had written to the government and the parliament as well in this regard.

On this, the chairman Senate said, the blame should not be placed on the parliament for the delay in elections as this was the duty of the ECP, the government and the PBS to make necessary arrangements for timely conduct of elections.

The chairman Senate also summoned a meeting of all the lawmakers of the house for today after Friday prayers to get a briefing of the PBS after the law minister concluded a debate regarding reservations of the lawmakers on the provisional results of census. The law minister challenged the reservations of the lawmakers and quoted some international organisations that the population results were the same as projected by these organisations.

The minister said that there were some misunderstandings on the census results. Giving the example, he said, the population of Lahore increased highly because some years back, the whole Lahore district was declared urban while some areas of District Kasur were also included in Lahore. While the Sindh government did not do this in Karachi, he said. He offered that the meeting of lawmakers could be arranged with the PBS to address their reservations but at the same time requested the house to give an authenticity to the census results.

Senator Mohsin Aziz, who is the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Privatisation and Statistics, pointed out that PBS was compiling the census results with a very casual attitude and feared that it would not be possible that final results would be announced in April. He said that the bureau was compiling this huge data with only 16 computers.

At least five lawmakers, speaking on a call attention, criticised the government for not providing security to the Hazara community of Balochistan to save them from persecution. They said that their persecution forced about 70,000 Hazaras to take refuge in Australia, New Zealand and other countries that tarnished the image of the country.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar likened the Hazaras of Balochistan to Rohingya Muslims, saying both were fleeing from their countries in desperation. He said that Hazaras have been fleeing to Indonesia and Malaysia from where they travelled by sea to Australia and New Zealand in search of a safer place. He said the plight of Hazaras was neither on the radar of the Parliament nor of the political parties, and they had been left hapless.

Responding to a call attention notice, State Minister for Interior Talal Chaudhary said the government had no mechanism to give exact figure of people who have so far migrated to Australia.

He said that a few years back when government launched a crackdown against terrorist organisations, they started targeting minority communities across the country to tarnish the image of the country.

Speaking on a point of public, JUI-F Senator Hafiz Hamdullah protested against non-provision of adequate security to chairman Senate who, according to the senator, was facing life threats.

“JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Deputy Chairman Senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, and ANP chief Asfandyar Wali were given bulletproof vehicles after they faced terrorist attacks and perhaps the government is waiting for such an attack to give security to the chairman,” he said.

Attorney General gave an in-camera briefing to the house regarding the decision of International Court of Justice to stay the execution of death sentence awarded to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav.