ISLAMABAD: The deadlock over the delimitation law persists as main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which enjoys a dominant position in the Senate, has refused to cooperate with the government unless its demands on the modus operandi for a third-party audit of the census in five per cent census blocks are accepted.

“We are not asking for the moon. Our demands are very clear and are meant to ensure transparency in the process,” PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Taj Haider told Dawn.

He said the PPP would not allow passage of the constitution amendment bill in the upcoming session of the Senate scheduled for Dec 11, if it’s just demands were not met.

The bill, which paves the way for the allocation of seats in the National Assembly and delimitation on the basis of provisional census results, has already been passed by the National Assembly.

Taj Haider accuses govt of ignoring his party’s concerns; PML-N senator says democratic interests should not be put at stake for political mileage

Article 51(5) of the Constitution provides that seats in the National Assembly shall be allocated to each province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the federal capital on the basis of population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published.

There is a consensus among political parties that for purposes of the next general elections to be held in 2018 and by-elections, allocation of National Assembly seats should be made on the basis of provisional results of the census 2017 without changing the existing total number of general seats (272) and women seats (60) and retaining the share of Fata (12).

According to the proposed reallocation, seats will increase for Balochistan (2 general seats + l woman seat), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (4+l) and federal capital (l+0), while seats for Punjab will decrease (-7 and -2). The seats for Sindh will remain the same.

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) had at a meeting on Nov 13 approved publication of provisional results of the census for purposes of Article 5l(5) as provided in the bill. The CCI had also decided that a third-party validation would be carried out of 1pc census blocks. The proportion of census blocks where the re-verification exercise is to be carried out was changed to 5pc when the bill was passed by the National Assembly.

Senator Haider said that if the faulty methodology used in the census 2017 was repeated in the Post Enumeration Survey (PES) of 5pc selected blocks by the same organisation that had carried out the census, the results would once again become controversial.

He said the de jure method used in the census had registered migrants in their provinces of origin and not in the provinces of their present residence. It had also missed illegal residents who were a great burden on the provinces in which they were residing. The internationally accepted de facto method, which records residents at their present place of residence, was the only method to record population correctly and this method should be used in the PES of the 5pc selected blocks.

He called for the use of internationally recognised templates for enumeration that record the data and transmit it online to controlling offices. These returnable templates are supplied free-of-cost by the UN Population Fund. The data should also be sent online to the provincial governments to maintain transparency of the survey.

The senator demanded formation of a mutually agreed ‘census commission’ comprising recognised demographers to supervise and undertake the PES. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) should only provide logistics and administrative services to the agreed census commission. “PBS after colossal waste of over Rs4 billion in the house count of 2011 and around Rs18 billion in the controversial census 2017 is continuously trying to justify its faulty methodology and controversial count,” he said, adding that only a commission of recognised and mutually agreed demographers could earn the trust of people.

He observed that the way forward was not at all difficult if internationally recognised methods were used by recognised demographers. These easy-to-follow methods also saved considerable time and resources while ensuring transparency.

Senator Haider regretted that the government was continuously ignoring these justified demands and had launched a campaign to defame the PPP whose sacrifices for democracy and the Constitution were part of the country’s history.

Role of army

Senator retired Gen Abdul Qayyum of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, when contacted, said that all political parties should play an active role in the passage of the bill in the Senate, adding that democratic interests should not be put at stake for political mileage. He expressed surprise over the demand that the army should not have a role in the audit exercise. The role of the army in such exercises has never been disputed by any party. He recalled that the census had been delayed due to non-availability of an appropriate number of troops. The decision had been taken at the CCI forum where there was no objection from any party to it, he added.

Without naming PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Senator Qayyum said the people who were not part of parliament should not obstruct the passage of the bill and allow their party members to participate in the voting on the basis of their conscience. He said opposition members should face it upright and instead of abstention vote either in favour of or against the bill.

He noted that the passage of the bill was essentially linked with the timely holding of general elections. “It is in the interest of democracy that elections are held on time”.

Another lawmaker on condition of anonymity claimed that behind the scenes the PPP was making some other demands in return for its support for the bill. He said these included Senate chairmanship in the post-March 2018 scenario when the composition of the house would change, besides adjustment of six to seven National Assembly seats in Punjab in the next general elections.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2017