Tuesday May 28, 2024

Politics of delimitation

By Dr Shahab Imam
August 16, 2022

Black’s Law Dictionary defines the term gerrymandering as: “the practice of dividing a geographical area into electoral districts, often of highly irregular shape, to give one political party an unfair advantage by diluting the opposition’s voting strength.”

In a notification issued in December 2021, the Sindh government gave a green signal for the delimitation of constituencies in Karachi Division. The entire division was divided into the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation with a council of 246 union committees, distributed among the 25 town municipal corporations (TMC) carved out of seven districts in Karachi.

These districts have a huge variation of population among various town municipal corporations within a district. This delimitation is in utter disregard to the ‘one vote one person’ principle as laid down in Articles 51(5) and 25 of the constitution and Sections 7(1), 8 (4); Section 9(2) of the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974; the newly added Articles 140-A, 219(d) read with Articles 7, 32 and 37(i) of the constitution. This principle is also applicable to local government elections.

In its landmark judgment, PLD 2014 SC 531, the country’s apex court offered the dicta that delimitation of constituencies is the sole responsibility of the Election Commissioner of Pakistan; Article 140A(2) of the constitution gives power to the ECP to hold local government elections. Article 218(3) further adds that the ECP should “organize and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly, and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against.”

Since delimitation of constituencies of the local government is the part of the process of organizing and holding elections, the ECP should have the power to carry it out.

Even if it is accepted that it’s the jurisdiction and responsibility of a provincial government to carry out delimitation, there are certain principles that need to be followed effectively. These principles are laid down in Section10 (3) of the Sindh Local Government Amendment Act, 2021, read with Section 20(3) of the Election Act 2017 and Rule 10(5) and Rule 17 of the Election Rules 2017.

These sections talk about the distribution of population in a geographically compact area, physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and public convenience and other cognate factors to ensure homogeneity in the creation of constituencies coupled with a maximum 10 per cent variation in population of constituencies of a local government and, in exceptional cases where the population exceeds 10 per cent, sufficient reasons should be recorded. These rules were flaunted by the PPP government in Sindh when it announced its notification regarding delimitation.

The provincial government has carried out a classic example of gerrymandering in order to grab mayoral positions in Karachi and Hyderabad. It has created a higher number of union committees in areas with the lowest threshold of the population range (500,000) as given in Schedule I Part B for delimitation of the town municipal corporation – it is done in revenue districts where the party has a strong vote bank. However, it has created fewer union committees in areas where the population range exceeds the upper threshold of 7.5 million to delimit the TMC that has a strong vote bank of the party’s opponents.

Under Section 18(4) of the SLGAA, 2021, the chairperson of each union committee has the power to elect the mayor and deputy mayor of Karachi. The Sindh government has smartly indicated that the average population per union committee in all seven districts of Karachi Division is 62,000. However, District West with a population of 2,077,197 has three TMCs. Orangi, which has a population of 697,223 has been distributed in eight UCs with an average population of 87,154 per UC; the Mominabad Town Corporation, with a population of 417,460, has been divided into nine union committees with an average population 46,384 per UC; Mangophir, with a population of 909,340, has been spread out into 16 UCs with an average population of 56,833 per UC.

Similarly, District Keamari, with a population of 1,825,562, has three TMCs: Baldia, with a population of 78,373 has been distributed in 13 UCs with an average population of 60,288 per UC; the Mauripur Town Corporation, with a population of 589,407, has been delimited into 11 UCs with an average population of 53,582 per UC; Moriro Mirbahar with a population of 452,418 has been spread out into eight UCs with an average population of 56,552 per UC.

Population ranges indicated in Schedule–I Part-B of SLGAA, 2021 have conferred arbitrary powers to the ruling party of Sindh. The percentage of the population range with the upper and lowest limits of population for TMCs and UCs is 50 per cent and 66 per cent respectively, duly indicated in Schedule–I of the SLGA 2013, which is in clear violation of even Section 10(3) of the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013 read with Section 20(3) of the Election Act 2017 and Rule 17 of the Election Rules 2016, which says that variations in population should not exceed more than 10 per cent, subject to exceptional cases with the reasons to be recorded .

This shows that the PPP-led Sindh government has squeezed a large population of Orangi Town and Baldia Town in a few union committees, completely ignoring the principles of uniformity in population. This attempt to deprive the people of their fundamental right to vote will not augur well.