Monday September 20, 2021

Delimitation decisions

March 25, 2018

The delimitation of constituencies for the upcoming general elections was always going be a fraught process, given the long and needless delay in passing the constitutional amendment that allows the Election Commission of Pakistan to carry out the delimitation of electoral constituencies on the basis of the provisional results of the 2017 census. The exact demarcation of electoral boundaries can have an outsized effect on the eventual winners of the election and, as such, every political party is going to try to gain every advantage it can get. On March 5, the ECP published a preliminary report on the new constituencies – the first that have been demarcated on the basis of the 2017 census – and gave the public till April 3 to issue any objections. The proposals so angered members of all political parties that the National Assembly formed its own delimitation working group. This has led to a stand-off with the ECP, which believes that this working group is unduly interfering with the delimitation process. In this instance, the ECP is correct. The constitution does not provide for any role for parliament in delimitation. Should political parties be allowed to have any output in setting electoral boundaries they will invariably end up gerrymandering districts to best ensure their incumbents are re-elected. While it is proper for political parties to raise their objections in the proper forums, parliament itself should not be putting any pressure on the ECP.

This is not to say that the draft proposals released by the ECP are perfect. There is meant to be a variation of no more than 10 percent in the populations of National Assembly seats, except in a few legitimate cases where no alternative is present. Some constituencies in Balochistan, for example, have significantly smaller voting populations because of the sparse population in the province while Karachi and other major urban areas have larger constituencies. This is permitted in the name of federalism to ensure sufficient representation for all parts of the country. But the drafts released by the ECP show 81 constituencies that do not fall within the 10 percent parameter. In all, the ECP says it has received 52 objections. All of these must be looked into in detail and reasoning given for why the objections were sustained or overruled before the May 5 deadline for the final delimitation of constituencies. As much as the political parties have a responsibility not to put pressure on the ECP, so too does the ECP have an equal responsibility to be independent and fair in how it carries out the process of delimitation.