ISLAMABAD: Parliamentarians, activists and former bureaucrats agreed on Thursday that fresh delimitations of electoral constituencies were necessary before the next general elections, and suggested that the size of a constituency, not just the size of its population, also be taken into consideration in that process.
Participating in a consultation, titled ‘Discrepancies in Delimitation: An Analysis of National Assembly Constituencies’, organised by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) at local hotel, several lawmakers from Balochistan aired their grievances regarding the process of delimitation.
Federal Minister for Safron retired Lt-Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch said that his constituency NA-271 (Kharan-cum-Panjgur) is spread over 65,000 sq km, which is bigger than all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata put together.
“My constituents are so scattered that I have to travel 5,500km if I want to visit a good number of villages. Moreover, because of security issues, I cannot move without three to four vehicles. The only solution is to reduce the size of the constituency,” he said.
Legislators from Balochistan say geographical area should also be a key metric for delimiting constituencies
Mr Baloch said that it was unfair that Balochistan, which constituted nearly half the total land mass of the country had only about five per cent representation in the National Assembly. He said that this number should be raised to at least 10pc.
“Some special consideration should be given and just population size should not be the criterion for [delimiting] constituencies. Moreover, these areas should also be considered when allocating funds; every district in Balochistan can be turned into one constituency,” he said.
PTI Senior Leader Saifullah Niazi agreed that the size of a constituency should also be a determining factor in delimitation.
“I believe that funds should only go to the local government and not to legislators; this is how the delimitation issue can be addressed,” he said, adding that there should be a geographical limit to the size of a single constituency.
JUI-F lawmaker Naeema Kishwar, who is also member of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, said that her party had recommended that the number of the seats allocated to Balochistan, but were told that this could only be done after a census.
BNP (Mengal) Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini said that a census could be held in Punjab, Sindh and KP, but it would be very difficult to do so in Balochistan and Fata.
“Balochistan’s teachers have already refused to participate in the census. Moreover, around 4 million Afghans have been absorbed into the population and efforts are being made to absorb another 1.8 million Afghans. The people of Balochistan will not allow a census unless these Afghans are sent back,” he said.
PkMAP legislator Usman Ahmed Kakar advocated empowerment of the houses of parliament so that they could take decisions that mattered. “There is a controlled democracy and parliament in Pakistan where policies are made by the GHQ,” he said.
Sarwar Bari of the Pattan Development Organisation told participants that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had been asked to send representatives to participate in the discussion, but they had turned down the invite.
Former ECP Secretary Hasan Muhammad said the commission should have sent someone to the consultation, because “the five judges of the ECP are not aql-e-kul (all-knowing)”.
According to Fafen, the current delimitation of National Assembly constituencies is highly skewed from the national average. The situation is not much different when variation in the average population per constituency within the region is examined.
There are sharp variations even within regions, indicating the need for fresh delimitation on an urgent basis.
For instance, the National Assembly constituency of Battagram in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa represents 428,868 people, while a population of nearly one million in Lower Dir is also represented by just one member in the National Assembly. Similarly, each parliamentarian in Hafizabad, Punjab represents, 581,296 people on average, while an average of 817,741 citizens in Lodhran are afforded the same level of representation.
Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2016