ISLAMABAD – Federal and provincial governments, for their own interests, have used the false excuse of voters’ verification drive of the Election Commission of Pakistan for not conducting the population census, say electoral experts.

Talking to TheNation, electoral experts opine that the census process and voters’ verification drive are two separate matters which have no link with each other. They see no role of the ECP in delaying the census process, which can adversely affect the distribution of resources in the NFC Award in addition to creating other economic and policy-making problems for the country.

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) Executive Director Ahmed Bilal Mehboob says the ECP has no role in the delay of conducting census. “There are other factors delaying the census, including differences in ruling coalition over housing census, which is a perquisite for population census, the vested interests of political parties and the operational constraints.” He said: “According to my information, housing census was never completed and it was called off because some ruling parties were afraid of losing vote bank in certain constituencies of Sindh and elsewhere. Even the last population census was conducted after facing great difficulties.

“At the time of previous census, the then premier Nawaz Sharif and federal minister Sartaj Aziz had played a role in getting the army involved in census. But today, the army is extensively involved in the tribal region and it cannot afford to depute its men for census that requires a lot of manpower,” Mehboob said.

Talking about marking boundaries of constituencies, he said that there were two requirements for delimiting constituencies; increasing the number of the national and provincial seats or conducting population census.  “So the constituencies would not be delimited. The delimitation could adversely affect the Muttahida Qaumi Movement vote bank in Karachi due to Pakhtuns and the Pakhtun communities’ stakes in Balochistan where Balochs oppose the inclusion of Afghan refugees as voters who are all Pakhtuns. It’s the vested interests that are sabotaging a national cause,” he said.

The PILDAT executive director criticised the federal government for leaving the matter on discretion of provinces. “This issue was taken up by the centre at the CCI (Council of Common Interests) last year but the vested political interests overshadowed it. It’s the federal government that is to be blamed.” 

Mudassir Rizvi also does not hold the ECP responsible for the delay in population census. “It’s a documented fact that initiating the population census process was delayed during the CCI meeting between the representatives of the centre and provinces.

It would not be appropriate to link voters’ verification drive with excessively prolonged delay in carrying out population census.”

The CEO of FAFENT says that the population of Federally Administered Tribal Areas roughly makes two percent of Pakistan’s population and has 12 seats in the National Assembly while Balochistan with five to six percent share in the country’s population has only 14 seats.

Referring to a Balochistan’s NA constituency in Naseerabad, which has over 0.65 million registered voters, Rizvi said: “This creates huge imbalance of proportion when one constituency has voters in such great number while several constituencies in FATA have 0.1 to 0.15 million voters.” He added that de-limitation of constituencies was essential for free and fair elections. “Political interests have stalled the population census and delimitation of constituencies.”

Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad says that the delimitation cannot be carried out without population census and it’s the criminal negligence of federal and provincial governments that have kept the census process away from being carried out.