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No sign of the census

Updated September 19, 2014
— File photo
— File photo

Going by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the decision on a new census rests with the Council of Common Interests.

A body formed under Article 154(3) of the Constitution, the CCI is a forum for sorting out differences among the constituent units.

On the census issue, however, the CCI’s inaction seems to stem not from differences but from some kind of a tacit and deplorable agreement among the provinces and the federal government.

Also Read: ECP wants control over polling staff, fresh census

At its Wednesday’s meeting, the ECP rightly said that a “realistic delimitation” of constituencies could not be held without a fresh census because of the demographic changes since the last census held in 1998 — when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party was in power.

While a general election was held last year, only Balochistan has had the benefit of a local bodies’ election, the other three provinces apparently joining hands in an unholy alliance to deny democracy to those at the grass roots.

The provinces alone are not to blame.

The CCI is headed by the prime minister, whose party rules Punjab, which like Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has defied the Supreme Court’s ruling of March 9 asking the provinces to hold LG elections within five months.

Also Read: LG polls forgotten

Even when the situation was relatively ‘normal’, the three provinces did not care to hold LG elections; now with the Islamabad sit-ins and the floods ravaging Punjab and heading towards Sindh — even if potentially less destructive now — the provincial governments have a readymade pretext for avoiding LG polls.

Normally, a census must be held every 10 years as recommended by the UN; in Pakistan’s case, we have not held it for 16 years.

A census is needed not just for delimiting electoral constituencies but also for economic planning.

With dwindling water resources, a yawning energy deficit, and an expanding population with higher expectations — and an acute security problem to boot — Pakistan needs a fresh census to give planners the essential tools for future projections. Without the census data, they would be operating in a vacuum.

The reason why the three provinces are afraid of holding a census and local bodies’ elections is obvious: they are not sure which way the people would vote.

A ‘wrong’ verdict would undermine the ruling parties’ right to govern and perhaps strengthen elements that want fresh general elections.

It is this fear that stands between the nation and the census, with the imperatives of economic planning being sacrificed at the altar of partisan interests.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2014