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CCI breaks deadlock on delimitation

Updated November 14, 2017
PRIME Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chairs the meeting of the Council of Common Interests on Monday.—Online
PRIME Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chairs the meeting of the Council of Common Interests on Monday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: The Council of Common Interests (CCI) on Monday succeeded in breaking the deadlock over the issue of fresh delimitation of constituencies, when Sindh agreed to hold elections on the basis of provisional census data, following assurances from the federal government that a third-party audit of certain population blocks would be conducted.

The breakthrough, which could pave the way for elections to be held as per schedule, came at the CCI meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Kahqan Abbasi and attended by all the four chief ministers.

Talking to Dawn soon after the CCI meeting, a satisfied Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who was given membership of the council in place of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar hours before the meeting, said the government would soon convene a session of the National Assembly after all parties agreed to the constitutional amendment bill that was required by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to carry out delimitation of the constituencies ahead of the elections due to be held in August next year.

The prime minister, who remained busy throughout the day with party meetings in Lahore, had convened the CCI meeting on the one-point agenda of delimitation when the matter was referred to him by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

The speaker had failed to garner support from parliamentary leaders for the constitutional amendment bill seeking a re-allocation of seats in the five legislatures on the basis of the provisional census.

The speaker had to refer the matter to the federal government after the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) refused to support the legislation without approval from the CCI.

Briefing reporters, PM’s spokesperson Musadiq Malik announced that the CCI had given the go-ahead for delimitation of constituencies on the condition that the data of at least 1pc population blocks across the country would be audited by the Statistics Division through a third-party.

Mr Malik said these blocks would be chosen through a draw and the whole exercise would be completed within three months. He said that a comparison of the data of the selected blocks would be made with other blocks in order to remove misunderstandings on the census data.

Sources privy to developments told Dawn that ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad was specially called to brief the meeting about the hurdles facing the ECP in the conduct of elections due to the delay in delimitation of constituencies.

They said the secretary told the CCI that it was their duty to hold elections on time, adding that the best scenario would have been the issuance of a final notification, which the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) says will only be possible by April 2018.

The ECP secretary said that if results were published in April, followed by allocation of seats under Article 51(5) of the Constitution according to the last census, it would not be possible to conduct fresh delimitation as required by the Constitution.

He was quoted as saying that the ECP had no preferred solution and was only interested in holding elections on time without compromising on constitutional provisions.

The ECP was required, under the new election law, to announce its plan of action for the electoral exercise four months before the polls. He also pointed out that the ECP was required to complete door-to-door verification of voters by May 5.

The sources said all the four chief ministers stressed the need to hold elections on time. It was pointed out that the population of Punjab was 56pc of the country’s total population, according to 1998 census, but had now come down to 52pc — which clearly meant that the number of seats allocated to the province would be reduced.

Only the well-prepared Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah expressed reservations over the provisional census data, whereas other chief ministers did not raise any objections.

Meanwhile, PPP Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar claimed that the CCI had decided that any population bloc other than the selected ones could be opened if someone brought forth “preliminary evidence” that the data of that bloc was incorrect.

Talking to Dawn after being briefed by the Sindh chief minister, Mr Babar said the PPP had agreed to support the constitutional amendment bill only because it did not want to see the elections delayed.

Mr Babar said the Sindh chief minister had initially demanded audit of 3pc blocs, but other participants did not agree.

He said the third-party could be any “independent chartered accountant” on which the federal government and the respective provincial governments have confidence.

Following the breakthrough, the speaker has called a meeting of parliamentary leaders tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss the strategy for the smooth passage of the constitutional amendment, introduced by Law Minister Zahid Hamid in the National Assembly on Nov 2.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2017