Delimitation praise

27 May 2018


TWO weeks since the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) published the final delimitations of constituencies — after adjudicating on 1,286 objections on preliminary proposals — there have been no more complaints, neither on judicial nor on political fronts. No news is good news.

The country’s entire electoral map thus stands updated. This is no small feat, especially as this important exercise was done for the first time under a democratic setup. It required parliament to amend the Constitution to authorise the ECP to work with provisional census returns, besides changing seat allocations to provinces and federal areas given in Article 51 (3).

It wasn’t without challenges. The will and capacity of responsible institutions were doubted at every step. But they overcame all obstacles, and met all deadlines, to pass this crucial test. Equally important is the fact that rules have been followed. In fact, rules to implement delimitation-related clauses of the Elections Act 2017, were framed for the first time. The process of hearing objections to the draft proposals also met its required objectives: hearings were open to the public, the ECP issued a cause list and drew in its district and divisional staff for local advice.

Though a detailed study of the changes between preliminary and final delimitations requires time and effort, an empirical overview reveals the ECP has dealt with the objections on merit and did not hesitate to make bold decisions.

The exercise wasn’t without challenges, but the ECP met them.

The ECP received many representations on draft proposals for Balochistan from local politicians. Objections on the same were also raised in an article by this writer published in these pages. It is comforting to note that the ECP took the criticism positively and has amended the proposals accordingly.

The following is a summary of delimitation changes made in Balochistan:

Five districts of Nasirabad division — Nasirabad, Jafarabad, Kacchi, Jhal Magsi and Sohbatpur — were given three seats in the preliminary proposals. This was unusual as the division’s share in population equalled 2.1 national seats. This resulted in two constituencies of very small-sized populations: NA-260 Nasirabad was two-thirds of the average per seat population, while it was a little below half for NA-262 Kacchi cum Jhal Magsi.

In the final delimitations, both the constituencies have been merged to form one constituency — NA-260 Nasirabad-Jhal Magsi-Kacchi. Nasirabad division thus now has two national constituencies, NA-260 and NA-261 Jafarabad cum Sohbatpur.

The seat spared from Nasirabad division has now been allocated to the Baloch mainland, which is vast in expanse and very thinly populated. Nine districts of this area, falling in Quetta and Kalat divisions, were given two seats in the preliminary proposals; NA-268 and NA-270. The total geographical area of the country’s western-most districts was a mammoth 149,635 square kilometres. This could have seriously hurt the quality of representation from the area, as running poll campaigns and then representing the population of these vast swathes would have been impossible.

In the final delimitations, these nine districts have been divided into three national constituencies. Mastung, Shaheed Sikandarabad and Kalat districts now form NA-267; Chagai, Nushki and Kharan have become NA-268; while Panjgur, Washuk and Awaran are now NA-270. These constituencies now have populations 10 to 20 per cent below the provincial average, which is good compensation for their vast area. In this way, the districts south of Quetta with majority Balochi-speaking populations now have seven national seats, instead of the six given in draft proposals.

The same nine districts were each given a provincial seat in draft proposals, except that Kharan and Washuk districts were combined to form one constituency. With a total area of 48,000 sq km, Kharan and Washuk combined would have been the biggest provincial constituency in geographical size, besides having a population exceeding the average by 37pc. This was undesirable. The final delimitation has split the constituency and given one whole seat each to Kharan and Washuk districts.

The number of provincial assembly seats for Nasirabad division has remained the same at seven. But instead of creating a quite small constituency comprising Jhal Magsi district, it has now been combined with parts of Kacchi, while the rest of Kacchi has been combined with Dasht tehsil of Mastung district to form PB-17. This has evened out the sizes of these constituencies to a large extent.

Another very small district, Sherani, was given one whole provincial seat, PB-1, in preliminary proposals. In the final delimitation, it has now been merged with PB-4 Musakhail, which too had a population 30pc below the provincial average. Both Sherani and Musakhail now jointly form PB-1.

The changes are a welcome sign of maturity in our system and a good omen for the development of democracy.

The writer is an independent researcher with an interest in elections and governance.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2018