ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which has been awaiting the passage of a fresh delimitation law from the Senate with bated breath, once again fears that holding the general elections on time could become practically impossible if immediate steps were not taken to pave the way for the commencement of the delimitation exercise.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also consulted with senior party leaders to find a way out following the impasse over the delimitation law.

“The abrupt prorogation of the upper house without the passage of the bill it had been convened to pass has made our blood run cold; if any more time is wasted, it would simply mean that polls will be delayed,” a senior ECP official told Dawn.

Explaining the emerging scenario, he said the process of delimitation would take at least five months and the exercise could only commence once the final results of the census were officially notified, or a law to provide for delimitation on the basis of provisional results was passed.

ECP worried by delay in passage of delimitation bill; PM looking for ways to win PPP support for key law

“Suppose we start the exercise from Dec 15, it would conclude by May 15, 2018, when the date for the announcement of the election schedule would be two weeks away,” the official said.

He said the law required the appointment of district returning officers, returning officers and assistant returning officers two months before the announcement of the election schedule. “If this happens, there will be complete confusion over which returning officer would be responsible for what area,” he remarked.

Under Section 14 of the new election law, the commission is required to prepare a comprehensive action plan, specifying all legal and administrative measures that have been taken or are yet to be taken, at least four months before the general elections.

This plan includes details of delimitation of constituencies, revision of electoral rolls, enlistment of political parties, allocation of symbols, appointment and training of district returning officers, returning officers, assistant returning officers, presiding officers, assistant presiding officers, polling officers and other election officials, preparation of constituency-wise lists of polling stations and lists of polling personnel, determination and printing of ballot papers and the designation of printing presses; establishment of a transparent result management system for election results, introduction of any new technology, arrangements for election observers, appointment of the appellate and election tribunals, security measures; and monitoring mechanism.

“If things are delayed any further, we will not be in a position to say that we are ready for elections.” The official said that expecting the ECP to simultaneously carry out delimitation, revision of electoral rolls, training of polling staff and procurement of election material would be a folly. “We have limited resources and manpower. We are not the United Nations,” he remarked.

Consultations

Leader of the House in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq told Dawn that a decision had been taken to contact the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), independents and other parties represented in the Senate to seek their support and get the bill passed in the next sitting of the upper house.

Sources said the government was also considering the option of directly approaching Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, who represents his party at the Council of Common Interests (CCI), to try and prevail upon the PPP leadership.

Insiders say the main hurdle for the government was the PPP’s stance, which wants more clarifications from the government over the re-verification process in 5pc of all census blocks, as agreed upon by the National Assembly.

When asked about the post-census enumeration process, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Taj Haider told Dawn that a census verification commission, consisting of three recognised demographers, should be appointed through mutual consultations for a period of three months to undertake the enumeration process and submit a final report.

“It is not the job of commercial audit firms or chartered accountants; this is a job for qualified demographers. My party has the names of highly-qualified demographers, no commercial tenders are required,” he remarked.

He noted that since the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) had become controversial, its role in this exercise should be restricted to providing logistical and administrative assistance. No one from the PBS should be included in the commission itself, he said.

He also said that census blocks should be selected for reverification through random sampling by a computer programme on a district-level.

He called for curfew to be imposed in selected blocks for one day so that the post-enumeration survey could be carried out in a professional manner, and opposed the idea of giving any role to the army in this exercise.

Even Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah has expressed the hope that the delimitation law will be passed before Dec 11, when the Senate will meet next.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2017

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