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November 24, 2017

An unacceptable delay


November 24, 2017

In the last week, three attempts have been made – the most recent on Wednesday – to introduce the constitutional amendment in the Senate which would allow the next elections to be held on the basis of the 2017 census. On each occasion, the bill could not even be put up for a vote because the requisite two-thirds majority needed to pass an amendment was not present. The Senate will now give it a fourth try on Friday though the PPP has given no assurances that it will allow it to pass. It is difficult to understand why the PPP is dragging its feet. A meeting of the Council of Common Interests was convened where the worries of the party about the census results were addressed and the PPP voted in favour of the amendment in the National Assembly. The party now says it is worried that the independent panel which will be constituted to look at the census results for accuracy will comprise chartered accountants rather than statisticians. While that is a valid procedural complaint, it is not worth delaying an amendment that is crucial to the timely holding of the next elections.
More than a month has passed since the Election Commission of Pakistan warned that the constitutional amendment needed to be passed immediately for it to complete the process of delimitation in time for the elections. Now there is a very real danger that it will not be able to do so. This has led to fears that the elections might have to be postponed, with some reports even saying that the courts may extend the tenure of the current parliament or give a longer term to the caretaker government. Both options should be unacceptable to all parties. We have no constitutional mechanism for dealing with an unprecedented situation where elections are due but electoral boundaries have not been delimited; and the limited role of caretaker governments is clearly laid out in the constitution. Holding the elections using the outdated 1998 census is equally unpalatable. There is only one obvious

solution. The PPP has to do avert a constitutional crisis by ensuring its members are present in the Senate when the delimitation amendment is brought up for a vote and then get them to approve it. The government has negotiated with the opposition parties and reached an agreement. To essentially void that agreement by continually delaying votes will only bring us to a stage where there will be mass confusion about the next elections.

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