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Editorial

November 30, 2017

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Elections in trouble

The threat of delayed elections is now becoming a very real possibility and should that come to pass much of the blame will be placed on the PPP. For months now, the Election Commission of Pakistan has been urging parliament to pass a constitutional amendment to authorise the holding of the next elections on the basis of this year’s census. The government did its bit when it held a meeting of the Council of Common Interests and secured the agreement of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to pass the amendment. That amendment then sailed through the National Assembly. It has since been stuck in the PPP-controlled Senate where the ECP’s warnings that it needs a minimum of five months to carry out the process of delimitation have not been heeded. The next session of the Senate is on December 11. The PPP will have to be convinced by then that passing the amendment is an essential democratic duty. The party’s issue is with the census itself. It believes the number of people in Sindh has been deliberately undercounted. To assuage those fears, the PML-N agreed to form an independent commission to re-verify the results of five percent of the census.
That should have been enough to secure the PPP’s support, but the party is now haggling over the details. It wants to appoint demographers and statisticians rather than chartered accountants to the commission. The merits can be debated but it should not be used as an excuse to hold the amendment hostage. In fact, it may already be too late. Should the amendment be passed on December 11 – which is far from guaranteed at this point – the ECP will need till at least May of next year to finish delimitating electoral boundaries. By June 1, the tenure of the government will have ended and the election schedule will be due. The names of returning officers and other election staff have to be announced two months before that. Doing so will be difficult, to say the least, if the electoral constituencies themselves

haven’t been set. For the election to be held on time, the government and the ECP will essentially have to create a series of workaround and institute ad-hoc measures. That is hardly likely to inspire confidence in the fairness of the elections. Then it is the opposition parties who are likely to howl in protest even though it is they who have created this situation in the first place.

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