Election delay ‘certain’ as CCI ratifies latest census

Published August 6, 2023
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the Council of Common Interests on Saturday. — Photo courtesy: PID
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting of the Council of Common Interests on Saturday. — Photo courtesy: PID

• Law minister claims constitutional amendment not required for fresh delimitation
• PPP keeps mum, MQM-P celebrates, BNP-M rejects CCI decision

ISLAMABAD: The Council of Common Interests (CCI) approved the results of the 2023 digital census on Saturday, making it almost certain that general elections may not be held this year as a fresh delimitation, which may take months, has now become compulsory.

Although some of the ruling allies, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), earlier opposed holding the next general elections under the fresh census, its silence in the CCI meeting has raised questions.

Besides, although Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar claimed the new census results were “unanimously” approved, the government-allied Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) did not attend the CCI meeting, saying it rejected the council’s decision and would make its future course of action public on Sunday (today).

It has been feared that the passage of the new census could delay elections due to new delimitation, which requires an amendment to the Constitution.

However, Mr Tarar claimed that no such amendment was required, adding that once the CCI approved the census, elections must be held under the new population count as per Article 51 of the Constitution, which says that National Assembly seats should be allocated to administrative units “on the basis of population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published”.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and all ruling allies have already agreed to dissolve assemblies on Aug 9, three days before the expiry of the government’s term, after which the Constitution requires holding an election in 90 days.

The CCI meeting on Saturday was presided over by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and was also attended by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Balochistan CM Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo and Punjab caretaker CM Mohsin Naqvi. KP caretaker CM Azam Khan attended the meeting through a video link from Peshawar.

Other prominent attendees were Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, JUI-F leader Asad Mehmood, Khalid Magsi of Balochistan Awami Party, IT Minister Aminul Haque, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

Federal ministers including Ahsan Iqbal, Saad Rafique, Naveed Qamar and PM’s adviser Qamar Zaman Kaira also attended.

Talking to a private TV channel after the meeting, the law minister said that “provinces had reservations about the old [2017] census”. He said everything depended on the ECP, and the question was when would it complete the delimitation of constituencies as per the new census. He said if the delimitation was carried out efficiently, it could be completed in less than 120 days.

Asked whether the caretaker setup would need any legal or constitutional cover in case of an extended term due to a poll delay, he said: “There is no need for any amendment to the Constitution,” he added.

Meanwhile, MQM-P leaders termed the approval of the new census as their party’s success. In a presser, Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said his party had fulfilled the promises made to the people of Karachi. “We have managed to get included 7m people of Karachi in the census and 10m people are yet to be added,” he said.

The PPP, which earlier raised objections to the holding of elections under the new census, did not react to the approval of the census by the CCI. PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira congratulated the whole nation on the passage of the new census by the council.

Also, the BNP-M said party chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal chaired a meeting in which he rejected the CCI decision and termed it a part of “a part of 75 years of exploitation of Balochistan.” He said after the initial population count, Balochistan’s population was shown at 24.7m, but it has now decreased to 14.9m.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2023

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