Monday September 25, 2023

Making census controversial may cause political chaos

November 10, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has made a last-ditch effort to break the deadlock on the proposed constitutional bill, which provides for fresh mandatory delimitation of the constituencies and reallocation of seats on the basis of the new population census to hold next general elections on time.

The attempt is aimed at forestalling emergence of a chaotic situation in case the forthcoming elections are delayed in the absence of desperately-needed powers to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

After a lot of wrangling, the government bowed before the demand of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to convene the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to deliberate upon the census 2017, which has already been conducted and is final.

However, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and a standoff is not ruled out even in the CCI as the PPP insists that the next polls should be held on the 1998 census instead of the new data. In addition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) doesn’t accept the census as valid, claiming that Karachi’s population has been drastically reduced.

While the federal government wants the elections to be held on the dot, the ECP has warned if requisite constitutional amendment was not swiftly approved, it would not be able to organise the electoral exercise on the given time. It says it has to do a lot of work including delimitations, updating of electoral rolls, reallocation of seats etc., for the upcoming polls, which is possible only after it would be given the needed powers.

Not only the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) but discerning people are also at a loss to comprehend the abrupt opposition of the PPP and MQM-P to the constitutional bill after it was tabled in the National Assembly.

They are trying to figure out as to what prompted and provoked the two parties to suddenly change their stand. Contrary to their new stance, all the parliamentary players have unanimously agreed on the proposed legislation in sessions with Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq before the bill was brought before Parliament.

Prime Minister Abbasi has done well by calling a meeting of the CCI that will be attended by all the chief ministers besides federal ministers concerned. Instead of insisting on the stand taken by some of his ministers, he has decisively moved to tide over the differences pressed by the PPP and MQM-P.

The conduct of the long delayed census was approved by the CCI when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister. The exercise was carried out under the supervision of the army and more than 200,000 troops were deployed for the purpose. It was done to ensure that no political party or group subsequently raise objections to the transparency and accuracy of the census.

As the marathon data collection was underway for months, no political force protested or showed reservations. Even the PPP and MQM-P have now started targeting the census after several months, which has the potential of jeopardizing the holding of the 2018 elections at the appointed time.

After these parties backed off from their commitment to support the constitutional bill, an exchange of hot words quickly started between the PML-N and PPP in which they have accused each other of conspiring against the holding of the next polls on time. This war of words has pointlessly marred the political environment.

The PML-N and its allied parties have the required numerical strength to pass the constitutional amendment in a joint session of the Senate and National Assembly, but they have not resorted to this option to avoid any political tensions. Therefore, its effort is to approve the bill through consensus as it has been doing.

By adopting an unpredictable attitude to the amendment, the PPP and MQM-P are portraying as if the holding of elections on time was a kind of favour that they did not want to offer to the PML-N. On the other hand, the PPP continues to assert that it wants the polls as per the schedule and would not allow any delay. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) wishes snap elections, but its policy towards the approval of the constitutional bill is non-existent. When the ECP is not in a position to hold the polls as scheduled in the absence of a constitutional cover, it certainly can’t organise the exercise before time.

Under Article 154 of the Constitution, the CCI shall formulate and regulate policies in relation to matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative List (FLL) and shall exercise supervision and control over the related institutions. As the subject of census occurs in this part, the CCI had decided to hold the much delayed population and housing data collection exercise after due deliberations and also formulated the policy to the effect.

The job of the CCI ended here. However, the PPP is still adamant to convene it to discuss the census already conducted. The CCI can’t now annul the nationwide exercise held as per the guidelines devised by it.

Importantly, the subjects of elections to the office of President, to the National Assembly, the Senate and the provincial assemblies; Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commission of Pakistan fall in the Part I of the FLL with which the CCI has nothing to do. The provinces have no control in these areas.