Ministerial body yet to finalise census recommendations

Published December 4, 2020
People visit a crowded weekly bazaar in Lahore.—AP/File
People visit a crowded weekly bazaar in Lahore.—AP/File

ISLAMABAD: While the government appears to be in no mood to notify the final results of the population census carried out in 2017, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) wants it to either issue a formal notification at the earliest or find out an alternative solution.

A meeting of the ECP presided over by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja on Thursday was told by the parliamentary affairs secretary that a ministerial committee on census headed by the aviation minister was yet to finalise its recommendations.

He said the committee had so far held six meetings and the minutes of three of them had been released while the rest were being formulated.

“As and when the committee submits its report to the cabinet, the case will be referred to the Council of Common Interests for approval of the official results of census,” the secretary told the meeting.

ECP wants government to either issue a notification at the earliest or find out an alternative

He said the chairman of the committee had repeatedly been asked for completion of the report at the earliest.

The consultant to the ministry of law and justice had told the committee that he was not in a position to give a definitive opinion as he could not consult the law minister.

The ECP directed the officers to take up the matter with relevant ministers and the government and assist the commission in the matter.

The committee had been constituted by the federal cabinet to deliberate and prepare a report on the issues that emerged in the census 2017.

Speaking on the occasion, the CEC said holding of timely elections was a constitutional responsibility of the commission under Articles 140 and 219 of the Constitution.

Mr Raja said under Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, the delimitation was to be carried out after publication of the official results of census and under Section 219(4) of the Act the LG polls were to be conducted within 120 days of the expiry of local government’s term.

The CEC said the commission had sought some maps and other data from the Sindh government, but they raised a question over delimitation on the basis of provisional census results.

He said the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan in the meantime had also moved the Sindh High Court (SHC) seeking stay against delimitation till official publication of the final census results.

He said during the previous hearing on November 24 the SHC had directed the ECP to write to the relevant quarters for issuance of official notification of final census results at the earliest.

Mr Raja said the ECP could not carry out delimitation in the absence of final census results and the delay could also create legal hitches in the way of general elections 2023.

The term of local governments in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa expired on Jan 27, 2019, and Aug 28, 2019, respectively, while Punjab dissolved local bodies on May 4, 2019. Similarly, the local government’s tenure in Sindh ended on Aug 30 this year.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the CEC had invited his attention to Article 51(5) of the Constitution amended through 24th Constitutional Amendment to pave way for allocation of National Assembly seats to the federating units and carrying out delimitation of constituencies on the basis of provisional census results.

He pointed out that the one-time waiver was meant only for general elections and the subsequent by-polls and was not applicable to the local government elections.

“Against this backdrop, it is stated that delimitation of constituencies is one of the fundamental steps towards elections. According to the Constitution and law, delimitation of constituencies is conducted on the basis of population in accordance with the last census officially published,” the CEC said.

Mr Raja said it was imperative that the final results of the census 2017 be officially published at the earliest so that the ECP could carry out delimitation to meet its constitutional obligation of organising and conducting elections to the local governments as enshrined in Article 218(3) read with Articles 219(d) and 140-A(2).

“The exercise of delimitation will not be possible until the official publication of final results of the sixth population census is made available. I am constrained to seek your kind intervention in the matter with the request that steps may kindly be taken for official publication of final results of sixth national census 2017 at the earliest so that the ECP can proceed with delimitation of constituencies accordingly,” Mr Raja said in his letter to the PM.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2020

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