ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which had earlier termed the formation of a parliamentary committee on delimitation of constituencies a useless exercise, informed the committee members formally through an “order” that they had no role to play in the matter, and requested them not to interfere in its mandate.

The committee had met on Thursday to formulate recommendations about the proposed delimitation of constituencies as announced by the commission on March 5, when ECP officials handed Federal Minister for Privatisation Daniyal Aziz, convener of the committee’s working group, the official “order” signed by all four members of the commission and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza.

Although the committee members protested against the ECP’s move, they decided to finalise their recommendations anyway and send it to the commission since they were the main stakeholders. The ECP officials, however, urged the parliamentarians to use legal and constitutional recourse and file objections in the form of petitions.

“The manner for filing representations is provided in Section 21 of the Elections Act read with Rule 12 of the Elections Rules 2017. The law does not provide any other mechanism except the filing of representations before the ECP,” reads the commission’s order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.

Panel protests commission’s order but nonetheless decides to formulate its proposals about delimitation of constituencies

“Only joint or several proposals/representations by a voter(s) of constituency are entertainable by the commission,” it says, adding that “the role of any other agency or institution is neither mentioned in the law nor is permissible under the Constitution.”

The order further says “the commission respects the Parliament and parliamentary committees but as the delimitation of constituencies is the sole mandate of the ECP under the Constitution and law, therefore, representations, if any, by aggrieved person can be filed in the manner provided under the law and rules, as the law and rules does not permit any other form of representations.”

“Therefore, it is expected that no interference in the mandate of ECP will be made by any committee or any other institution,” the order concludes.

On Thursday, ECP Secretary Sardar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad attended the parliamentary committee’s meeting but the commission later sent an additional secretary and the director general of elections to represent it.

Protesting against the commission’s move, Dr Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said that they had only wanted to advise the commission and point out certain anomalies in the delimitation of the constituencies in order to facilitate the ECP’s work. “Should we go to the Supreme Court for this matter now?” asked the PTI MNA from Karachi.

Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of the Awami National Party (ANP) objected to the ECP’s decision to re-number the constituencies, and asked why his Peshawar constituency had been changed from NA-1 to NA-31. He said that Peshawar had always been considered the first city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the people of this city had rendered great sacrifices for Pakistan.

Mr Aziz said it was the responsibility of parliamentarians to see if there had been any violation of the law in the process of conducting the delimitations. In case of any violation, he said, the parliament would take action. Apparently, he added, there seemed to be a number of anomalies in the ECP’s proposed new constituencies.

Sahibzada Nazir Sultan of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) accused the ECP of violating its own rules, saying that the ECP had “ruined” his constituency in Jhang (NA-90).

Similarly, Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said it was true that they [parliamentarians] could not issue directives to the ECP, but as stakeholders they could give suggestions and recommendations. He said it was up to the ECP to decide how much importance they would give to their proposals.

Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) also protested over the changes made to his constituency of Lower Dir. He objected to the procedure of filing complaints that the ECP had adopted for itself.

National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq on Tuesday had constituted the eight-member committee to examine draft proposals for delimitation and objections raised against them, after Mr Aziz accused the ECP of deviating from the Constitution.

The special committee includes two members of the PML-N and one each from the PPP, PTI, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, JI, PML-Functional and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazlur Rehman. They were directed to submit a report in this regard within a week. The members of the committee are PML-N’s Zahid Hamid and Daniyal Aziz, PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar, PTI’s Arif Alvi, MQM’s S.A. Iqbal Qadri, JI’s Sahibzada Tariqullah, PML-F’s Ghous Bux Khan Mahar and JUI-F’s Naeema Kishwar.

According to the ECP’s draft proposals notified to the public on March 5, there are more than 30 unusually large and small constituencies in terms of population.

While the average population per constituency calculated on the basis of the last year census findings in the country, excluding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), comes to 779,886, a careful analysis of the data released by the ECP in its report shows there are seven constituencies with populations exceeding a million and 23 other constituencies with a population of over 900,000.

These unusually large and small constituencies are present in all provinces: 10 in the Punjab, nine in Sindh, eight in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and four in Balochistan.

When contacted, a senior ECP official claimed that the exercise had been carried out in the most transparent manner and there had been no violation of the Constitution. The official said that while drawing up constituencies, districts were considered basic territorial units. He admitted that there would be a few very large constituencies because of the ECP’s efforts to avoid overlapping districts.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2018