ISLAMABAD: The conduct of next general elections on the basis of fresh delimitation following yet to start digital census is not possible, a senior official of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) told Dawn.

He said timelines of the seventh housing and population census had been revised and field operations for the first digital census are yet to start, making it practically impo­ssible for the ECP to carry out fresh delimitation for the general elections.

“The ECP will have no other option but to hold upcoming general elections on the basis of the existing delimitation,” he said.

The official said a team of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, led by chief statistician Dr Naeem-uz-Zafar, on Thursday told a meeting, chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, that it would be able to provide the officially published results of the seventh housing and population census by the end of April next year.

When the CEC asked if the timeline could be sque­ezed, the chief statistician replied that it would increa­­se the risk factor. The ECP official said these meant the final notification of the census would be issued with the term of the assemblies expi­ring in less than four months. He pointed out that the ECP would need four to six months to carry out the delimitation exercise.

He said that under Article 51(5) of the Constitution and Section 17 (2) of the Elections Act, the final published data was required for the purpose of delimitation of constituencies and the commission was bound to start delimiting constituencies after a census was officially published.

He said the ECP had been asking the government to publish official results of the seventh population and housing census by year-end. According to the original schedule, the census exercise was to start from Aug 1, 2022.

As per the work plan specified in the schedule, results were to be handed over to the election commission by Dec 31 and the final results by February 2023.

He said the ECP had reservations even then and wanted final results, and not the primary data, by Dec 31. He pointed out that the term of current assemblies would expire on Aug 12 next year, except for the Punjab Assembly which would last till Aug 14.

Once the census was published, the ECP would requ­ire more than four months to carry out a fresh delimitation exercise.

“Similarly, the revision of electoral rolls would also be required as a result of any increase or decrease in the number of census block codes and changes in the boundaries of blocks in different districts,” he said. “Likewise, an action plan under Section 14 of the Elections Act 2017 is also required to be prepared four months before the general elections (April 2023)”.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

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