How partisan politics has weighed in on the census debate
he conclusion of already delayed seventh national and first digital census has been further delayed - for the fifth time - mainly due to political objections and concerns.
The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the institution responsible for the enumeration of the people, has extended the date on which the census will be completed, from April 30 to May 15. The enumeration work was first extended for a week from April 4 till April 15, the 20 and then 30.
The extensions have been due mostly to political objections, mainly raised by key partners of the ruling coalition in Sindh – the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan. The MQM-P and some other parties contend that the population of the biggest city in the country has been grossly undercounted. A multi-party conference recently hosted by the PPP resolved not to accept the results of the ongoing national census if the reservations were not addressed by the federal authorities.
Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal has recently said that the government wants to ensure that the census is conducted in a way that is “acceptable to all.”
The census was due last year. The country’s chief statistician told a parliamentary committee that it could not be completed as per schedule by the end of 2022. After the PDM alliance formed the government, two provincial assemblies – the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – voiced concerns that the census was being used to delay polls in these provinces.
“Every party wants to play on the count and the exercise for its political representation and resource sharing,” says economist Kasier Bengali.
“The objections to census are more or less meant to polish up their politics. Every party wants to play on the count and the exercise for its political representation and resource sharing,” says economist Kasier Bengali. “Every province wants more seats and every party wants bigger constituencies for itself.” Citing Karachi as an example, he says some groups are not willing to accept that the demography has changed and that other ethnicities have a bigger share now. “The census is being made controversial to keep their politics alive and to play the victim card,” he adds.
The ongoing census has already been made controversial. It remains to be seen whether the results will be accepted or not. Like 2017, the PTI, the MQM-P, and the Jamaat-i-Islami may dispute the count for what are being called ‘political reasons’ amid growing concerns. The census means not just a peoples’ count but also of votes; delimitation for general elections; and determining the share as per the National Finance Commission (NFC) and Provincial Finance Commission (PFC).
“The best way to resolve the dispute is some random sampling and verification of the count in the enumeration blocks. I suggested this in 2017 as well when the exercise became controversial,” says Bengali. He also says that the NFC and PFC awards should be for three years each.
The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at vaqargillanigmail.com and he tweets waqargillani