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ISLAMABAD: With tacit approval of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of Pakistan has set aside the Balochistan High Court order of carrying out fresh delimitation of eight of the nine provincial assembly constituencies of Quetta.

In what appeared to be threatening the holding of timely elections, the BHC had nullified the new delimitation of Baloch­istan Assembly constituencies PB-24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and PB-32 and ordered the ECP to carry out the process afresh.

The ECP found itself in a quandary after the BHC verdict that came after the announcement of the election schedule as the fresh exercise would have taken at least two months.

Move seen as clear indication that commission will not tolerate encroachment upon its exclusive domain

A three-member ECP bench headed by Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and comprising retired Justice Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi and retired Justice Irshad Qaisar had after hearing arguments of both sides cancelled the BHC decision on June 7, a document available with Dawn reveals.

The move was seen as a clear indication that the ECP — a constitutional body mandated to hold free and fair elections — would not tolerate any encroachment upon its exclusive domain defined by the Constitution and the law.

This means the demarcation of boundaries will remain as per the final notification of delimitation of constituencies already issued by the ECP, addressing the legal hiccup having the potential to delay the polls.

The BHC order that set off alarm bells in the ECP had been issued on petitions filed by members of Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakht­unkhwa Milli Awami Party.

The delimitation of constituencies has remained a contentious issue, with a general impression that influential politicians managed in the past to get it done to suit their political interests. This time the things appeared to be different as the ECP kept the composition of delimitation committees secret, ignoring the eyebrows raised by many lawmakers. An official said it had been done to keep them free of political influence.

The ECP had carried out delimitations in 2002 based on the 1998 population census. Legally, population headcount should be done every 10 years, but the exercise was carried out in 2017 after a gap of 19 years.

The commission used the 2002 delimitations for 2008 and 2013 general elections by making slight amendments. Official results of last year’s population census are still not notified. As per the law, the ECP has to carry out delimitations on the basis of officially notified results of census.

Expecting that these results will be notified by April this year, parliament had through an amendment to the Constitution allowed the ECP to carry out delimitations on the basis of provisional results of the 2017 population census.

Once the delimitations process completed in March this year and they were put on display for public scrutiny, the ECP was inundated with hundreds of complaints. It disposed of the complaints on May 2 and notified delimitations of all constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies the following day.

In new delimitations, the number of seats allocated to the provinces in the National Assembly was changed. Fresh boundaries were marked for national and provincial assemblies’ constituencies across the country making population key factor.

Political parties had expressed their reservations and many people affiliated with different parties moved high courts in all the four provinces. Most of such cases were remanded back to the ECP with directives to hear the pleas of petitioners and decide them.

However, the BHC decision was unique in this respect. It declared the delimitation of eight provincial assembly constituencies null and void.

The Supreme Court came to ECP’s rescue and asked the parties to approach the commission for remedy with clear directions that the elections would not be delayed.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2018