No possibility of next polls on fresh delimitations

LAHORE –  The possibility of holding general elections in time next year on the basis of fresh delimitations appears to have been lost owing to the duplicity of all the main ruling and opposition parties.

After completion of the five-year term of the sitting PML-N government, the next general elections in the country are due in August-September 2018. After Census 2017, there were bright chances that the next elections would be held on the basis of fresh delimitations though Punjab was to face the deficit of seven general seats against increase of four general seats in KP, two in Balochistan and one in the federal capital. The number of general seats was to remain 272 after the fresh census.

In order to incorporate the fresh tally of seats according to their province-wise division, amendment in Article 51 of the Constitution is a prerequisite. For this purpose, the Election Commission of Pakistan has set November 10 as deadline so that it could get adequate time for fresh delimitations, inclusion of over one million new people in the electoral rolls and updating them under various demographical heads.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim-Nawaz and its partners in the government are voicing for the holding of the elections in time next year and that too on the basis of delimitations to be done in the light of the fresh census. The main opposition party, in the National Assembly, PPP too, is calling for timely elections, but it has serious reservations about the Sindh population which, it says, has been shown less than the actual number in the Census 2017.

Although it is not a partner with the PPP government in Sindh, the MQM, the second largest party in the province, has rejected the census results outright; it also wants timely elections, but half-heartedly.

As to the third leading political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), it is insisting on the early elections, which means it is not interested in the fresh delimitations and wants the elections on the basis of old delimitations of 2002.

The PML-N which commands majority in the National Assembly failed twice to bring the required strength of 228 members necessary for the purpose of amending the constitutional provision. The opposition parties have also shown lukewarm interest in carrying forward the matter of amending the law for reshuffling the NA seats.

The National Assembly session has been prorogued and probability is quite dim about the amendment taking place by November 10 even if the assembly session is called immediately. As such the ECP’s timeframe for legislation on the subject is not likely to be met.

The National Assembly speaker who sees constitutional hurdle in case the new census is not used for delimitations held a meeting of the parliamentary parties’ heads, but no breakthrough has come about for showing presence of at least 228 members in the assembly for the purpose of amending the Constitution.

PML-N President Nawaz Sharif has also constituted a five-member committee of the party legislators with the task to contact all the parties to convince them on amendment to the law.

But the question arises why the members of the ruling parties did not take interest in showing presence in house on the last two occasions. This gesture of the ruling party has created impression among the political analysts that the ruling party does not want the amendment for protecting the seats in Punjab, which otherwise will be slashed through delimitations.

The same line is being adopted by the PPP. It also wants timely elections and that too through new delimitations, but only when the Sindh seats are increased. This party has questioned the results of the census which it believes has shown the Sindh population less by 10 million. Therefore, the elections on the basis of the new census do not seem possible.

Former Election Commission of Pakistan secretary Kanwar Dilshad said the old delimitations carried out on the basis of Census 1998 would be available for timely elections if the assembly fails to legislate on new delimitations. The former ECP secretary observed the census report was finalised late by the statistical division, for which it had sought time till last week of April next although the Supreme Court had been assured of completing this exercise by November 2017. In his view, the interim report by the division has no legal value for the purpose of delimitations. Therefore, this fact is another hurdle in new delimitations apart from political push and pull. He opined the existing delimitations can be effective to hold next elections in time and increase in the population shown by the new census can be proportionally added to the voter lists of every constituency.

Kanwar Dilshad further said determining number of constituencies is the prerogative of the Election Commission but it has been carried out by the NA committee in the light of the new census. Supporting elections under the existing delimitations, the former secretary said any hurdle in that course can be removed through a presidential order.

Senior PML-N parliamentarian Rana Muhammad Afzal was quite optimistic about the election to be held in time through fresh delimitations. He told this scribe that the government will legislate on the subject by November 20 and the extra time consumed over the ECP-set deadline will be covered by expediting the process. Rana Afzal said in case legislation is not carried out, timely elections can be held on the basis of the existing delimitations. When asked why the PML-N legislators failed to show up in the NA session to get the amendment passed, he said the amendment item was not on agenda. He added the PML-N is quite willing to hold elections in time, adding other parties are running from polls for fear of defeat.



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