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November 15, 2017

Delimitation progress


November 15, 2017

The first essential step in holding next year’s general elections has been a long time coming. When the Ministry of Statistics released the provisional census data in August, political parties in Sindh were outraged by what they saw as the deliberate undercounting of the population in the province, and have since withheld support in parliament for a constitutional amendment that would allow the delimitation of electoral constituencies on the basis of the new census. Drawing up boundaries using data that is nearly 20 years old should never have been an option and the Election Commission of Pakistan was issuing warnings that timely elections would not be possible unless the amendment passed soon. That now appears likely to happen. At a meeting of the Council of Common Interests    on Monday, a consensus was devised to use the provisional census data for the process of delimitation. The agreement was reached after the centre accepted Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah’s proposal that a third party be employed to recheck one percent of the census data. This will provide a statistically significant sample of the total population and assuage any fears that the census may have been deliberately manipulated to depress the population of any particular area.

Armed with the CCI’s approval, the government needs to introduce and pass the constitutional amendment through parliament at the earliest possible opportunity. Previous attempts to do failed after the PPP and MQM-Pakistan withdrew their support, even though the government claimed to have assurances that they would vote in favour. The topic is a touchy one for the representatives of Sindh’s people as they have long felt a sense of alienation and believe they are treated unfairly by Punjab. But it is worth keeping in mind that there is no advantage to Sindh in using the 1998 census data for delimitation since its total number of seats would remain unchanged. In fact, it is Punjab which will end up losing a net total of seven seats. Whatever grievances Sindh may have, efficiently holding elections next year is in the interest of every province. No one will gain at the expense of anyone else if the elections are held using the newest data at hand. It is also worth keeping in mind that this is only the first stage of a long process. Once the ECP finishes delimitation, there are sure to be tussles over the way boundaries have been drawn. Then, too, the political parties need to remember that the smooth functioning of our democratic process is paramount and that the government and the opposition chose the ECP chief. This is a system everyone has bought into, which is why they are all collectively responsible for ensuring it isn’t hindered.    


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