PM puts damper on ‘timely polls’ with census proclamation

Published August 2, 2023
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks during an interview on Aaj News show ‘Sawal Yeh Hai’. — Photo courtesy Aaj News YouTube
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks during an interview on Aaj News show ‘Sawal Yeh Hai’. — Photo courtesy Aaj News YouTube

ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday dropped two major hints about the shape of things to come; with the information minister confirming that assemblies would be dissolved before their term expires, and the prime minister saying that the next elections would be held on the basis of the latest census exercise.

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb’s reaffirmation that the assemblies will be dissolved before their term ends leaves little doubt that a caretaker set-up will be in place for at least 90 days.

The prime minister, meanwhile, seems to be walking a tightrope to keep his allies content; the PPP is miffed at the idea of holding elections on the new census while the MQM-P has been demanding polls as per the fresh count.

In an interview with Asma Shirazi on Aaj TV on Tuesday, the prime minister said elections will be held as per the digital census conducted earlier this year.

Says elections to be held on 2023 count; Marriyum confirms plans for early NA dissolution

“We have to hold the elections on the basis of the new census… When a census has been conducted, the [polls] should be held on its basis unless there is an obstacle that cannot be overcome. But I don’t see [any such hurdle],” the PM said.

As soon as the results are consolidated, they will be presented before a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), which is a legal requirement, the PM said while referring to the body that includes all four provincial chief ministers as members.

When asked about whether holding elections on new census, the results of which have yet to be compiled, will delay elections or not, PM Shehbaz said that holding elections on time was the ECP’s job.

The ECP has already expressed its inability to hold general polls on the basis of the latest census results. After the results are approved by the government, the ECP will carry out a fresh delimitation of constituencies, based on the updated population count.

In June, a senior ECP official told Dawn that as per the Constitution, seats in the National Assembly are allocated to each province and federal territory based on the population according to the last published census.

Therefore, a constitutional amendment would be required if the number of seats was altered following the publication of census results, which was technically impossible after the acceptance of PTI lawmakers’ resignations, he said.

On Monday, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar also said polls will be delayed by at least 90 days if held under the fresh census.

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that the PM’s remarks have worried party leaders, who have been vocal in their demands for timely elections this year.

They said that the party would definitely take up the issue with prime minister soon.

Earlier, Minister of State for Poverty Alleviation Faisal Karim Kundi — who is also PPP’s central information secretary — told Dawn his party will never accept elections under the new census as Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had already written a letter to the PM expressing reservations on the count. “Our reservations have so far not been addressed,” he added.

“Elections will be delayed if the issue of holding polls under new census is raised at this stage,” Mr Kundi said.

Earlier, in a press conference, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb said the prime minister had already announced his intention to leave the government before the end of the current assemblies’ term.

She said the reins of the government will be handed over to a caretaker setup which will be announced after consultation with the coalition partners.

Kalbe Ali also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2023

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