Tuesday June 06, 2023

Polls under new census if result approved, Senate told

March 31, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Federal Law Minister Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar Thursday informed the Senate a digital census is currently going on in the country and if the results are finalised and duly approved, then delimitation and general elections would be held accordingly.

During the Question-Hour, the House was told that the census results will be finalised by 30th April, 2023 and provided to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after approval of the same by the CCI.

Responding to a question on the census, Tarar said that when the census was conducted in 2017, there were a lot of objections to it. At the end of 2017, a parliamentary meeting of all parties was held and an agreement was reached on it.

He said the points of this agreement were that the 2018 elections would be held on interim results because Article 51 of the Constitution intends that the general elections be held according to the census already done. Also, the delimitation is in proportion to the population and distribution of resources is also done accordingly.

The minister explained that all the parties unanimously signed an agreement that a digital census would be conducted before the 2023 elections and as a result of this agreement, Article 51 was amended for a clause to legalize the 2018 elections and keep it in line with the Constitution; it said the 2018 elections would be held on the interim census. He pointed out that when the 2018 elections were held, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government came to power and it was a part of this agreement and they were repeatedly asked to conduct the census. But only last year they announced it and the present government allocated Rs35 billion in the budget of 2022-23 to implement it.

The minister said whether the general elections cannot be notified in the presence of the census until the census can be notified is a constitutional question. This issue will come up as the intention of Article 58 is that the general elections be held under the last census.

Finance Minister Senator Muhammad Ishaq Dar also proposed in the House that the 1973 Constitution with regard to the census be revisited to evolve a system of automatic updates in accordance with the E-world.

The minister was responding to Federal Minister and MQM Senator Syed Faisal Sabzwari and Hidayatullah, an independent Senator, who expressed reservations on the ongoing digital census being conducted across the country with particular reference to Karachi and parts of ex-Fata.

Dar recalled that serious reservations were expressed on the 2017 census by Balochistan, Sindh and even parts of southern Punjab and therefore after a through debate in the Council of Common Interests, an exception was made and, accordingly, an amendment was done in the Constitution.

He pointed out that in view of the modern technology, an amendment, in his view, might be introduced, as Pakistan could not afford massive costs on this exercise based on 1973, and the situation warranted use of modern technology after evolving a consensus.

“One of the points being discussed in the Supreme Court is that if elections to two assemblies are held on the old census now and then poll exercise is conducted as per the new census in October, then by that time two new governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be in place. Would those be sent packing?” he noted.

The minister continued that one of the credits of 18th Amendment was that elections would be held at one time across the country for the sake of transparency, fairness and independent polls, then would for this purpose, two elected governments be packed up, which was not mandated in the Constitution. However, he assured the House that the government would entertain all suggestions on this count with an open heart and mind.

To the proposal floated by Senator Hidayatullah, the chair agreed to dedicate one day next week for deliberations of the Committee of the Whole, after consultations and inviting experts and provincial representatives to debate it and see if legislation is required to move forward.

Later, responding to the PTI senators, including Mohsin Aziz and Faisal Javed Khan, who came hard on the government for the present economic situation and massive inflation, the finance minister admitted that there was a very high inflation in the country.

However, he explained that the government was making international payments continuously and the country’s foreign exchange reserves had improved; the reserves have been improving for the last five weeks.

He said that the $2 billion that was returned to China had come back and more dollars were coming while technical talks with the IMF have been completed. Dar added that Pakistan’s economy was at number 24 in 2017, which became 47th in 2022. What happened in five years that the economy went so low? He said that inflation and reserves, and other things were inter-linked. “We have reached here due to incompetence and wrong policies; we have reversed the agreement of the previous government for which we are paying a big price. They destroyed the economy, now doing politics on the economy. The PTI government not only reneged on world commitments but also reversed it,” he claimed.

Earlier, Senator Faisal Javed cited the last year’s Economic Survey to claim how well the economy was doing under PTI and the present situation after the PDM came to power. He asked the government to come up with a roadmap or go home.