ISLAMABAD: Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza will chair a high-profile meeting on Friday (today) to formulate a plan for holding general elections next year.

An official of the Election Commission of Pakistan said the meeting, to be attended by top ECP officials and representatives of the organisations concerned, would mark commencement of the preparatory work for the elections.

He said that during the meeting instructions were likely to be given to the officials concerned regarding the preparatory work required for the gigantic electoral exercise which would take place either in the last week of July or first week of August.

The emergency meeting would be attended, among others, by all the chief secretaries, secretary of the statistics division, provincial election commissioners and chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority, said the official.

Polls to be held in late July or early August, says official

He said the meeting would focus on the already delayed delimitation exercise, but other issues concerning the preparatory work required for the mammoth exercise would also come under discussion.

The fresh delimitation of constituencies would begin by Jan 15 and was likely to be completed by May 15, that is, some two weeks before announcement either on May 28 or 29 of the schedule of the elections.

During the meeting, the official said, directions would be issued to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics for provision of the census data, maps of 163,675 census blocks and copies of the other documents required.

He said the ECP would require provisional results of the census in district and tehsil circles and at census blocks level. Timely provision of the documents was necessary as the commission would have to carry out simultaneously the tasks of delimiting the constituencies and revising the electoral rolls “on a war footing” due to the delay in passage of the Elections Bill 2017 and the subsequent amendment to provide for carrying out delimitation on the basis of the provisional census results.

Six to eight weeks would be required for the fresh delimitation of constituencies of national and provincial assemblies, while a month each would be required for the process for registration of objections and their disposal, said the ECP official.

In addition to the delimitation of constituencies and revision of electoral rolls, agenda of the meeting would include procurement of maps along with descriptions, assistance during the delimitation exercise, preparation of a draft list of polling stations, timelines for these exercises, missing facilities at the proposed polling stations, GIS facilities and installation of security cameras at the sensitive polling stations.

The official said that Section 20 of the Elections Bill 2017, set to become an act of the parliament shortly, enshrined the principles of delimitation.

Under the section, “all constituencies for general seats shall, as far as practicable, be delimited having regard to the distribution of population in geographically compact areas, physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and public convenience and other cognate factors to ensure homogeneity in the creation of constituencies”.

He said that as far as possible, variation in the population of constituencies of an assembly or a local government shall not ordinarily exceed 10 per cent, and if it did exceed the limit in an exceptional case, the ECP would have to record the reasons.

He said that under section 21 of the bill, for the purpose of delimiting the constituencies, the commission might receive and consider representations, hold inquiries, summon witnesses and record evidence, and shall prepare and publish in the official gazette a preliminary report and list of constituencies, specifying the areas proposed to be included in each constituency.

The commission had to invite representations in respect of the preliminary report within a period of 30 days from the date of publication. A voter in a constituency might, within the specified period, make a representation to the ECP in respect of delimitation of that constituency as proposed in the preliminary report, and the commission after hearing and considering the representations would make such amendments, alterations or modifications in the preliminary list of constituencies as it thought fit or necessary, and within a period of 30 days from the last date fixed for making representations, publish in the official gazette and on its website the final report and list of constituencies showing the areas included in each constituency.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has urged the ECP to complete the process of delimitation of constituencies as quickly as possible, preferably in three months.

A message posted on Mr Khan’s official Twitter account said that the PTI would not “tolerate any delay in the elections through any lame excuse”.

“Governance chaos exists because of political vacuum in Pakistan today. Only solution is early elections,” the PTI chief said in the message.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2017

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