The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday decided to conduct fresh delimitation of constituencies, making it almost certain that general elections may not be held within the constitutionally stipulated limit of 90 days.
Earlier this month, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) approved the results of the 2023 digital census, making it compulsory for the ECP to conduct fresh delimitation — a process that will take nearly four months.
The development was followed by the premature dissolution of the National Assembly and the farewell of the Shehbaz Sharif-led coalition government on Aug 9.
Article 224 of the Constitution binds the electoral body to conduct general elections within 90 days of the dissolution. Meanwhile, Section 17(2) of the Elections Act reads, “The commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”
Earlier, an ECP official told Dawn that the requirement of Article 224 and the legal obligation of conducting delimitation were being thoroughly examined by the body.
He was of the opinion there would be implications if polls were held without fresh delimitation, but had little apprehensions about any implications if the constitutional requirement of holding polls within 90 days was not met.
According to a schedule issued by the ECP today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the electoral watchdog will complete the delimitation exercise by mid-December.
As a first step, the boundaries of administrative units across the country will be frozen by Aug 17 and delimitation committees for all the provinces and the federal capital will be formed by Aug 21.
The ECP said administrative arrangements for delimitation, including the requisition of maps along with other necessary data, description of districts and tehsils from provinces, obtaining district census reports etc, would be completed between Aug 22-Aug 30.
Training will be provided to the delimitation committees between Sep 1 to Sep 4. District quotas for national and provincial assemblies will be shared with delimitation committees by Sep 5-Sep 7. Preliminary delimitations of constituencies will be prepared by committees from Sep 8 to Oct 7.
Preliminary delimitations will be published on Oct 9 after which people will present their objections and recommendations to the ECP on the initial delimitation from Oct 10 to Nov 8. The ECP will hear and decide all objections from Nov 10 to Dec 9 and the final list of constituencies will be published on Dec 14.
Separately, the electoral body also issued a list of directives for “all those in service of Pakistan” to assist it in the process of delimitation under Article 220 of the Constitution so that “elections can be held as enshrined in Article 218(3) of the Constitution”.
As per the instructions, the limits of revenue units “shall stand frozen from today” and “there shall be no change in the limits of the revenue units” till the completion of the delimitation process.
It directed its provincial chief secretaries, chief commissioner, federal government and the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to provide the ECP with the notification of census changes, census circles and census blocks, maps in respect of census changes along with descriptions, copies of consolidated master maps of urban areas showing census changes/circles/blocks in metropolitan corporations, municipal corporations, municipal committees and town committees, list of revenue units authenticated by the authority with units, latest district maps according to the new census and marking of natural physical features on the maps.
PTI, PPP oppose ECP decision
Following the ECP’s announcement, the PTI rejected the electoral body’s delimitation schedule and said it would the notification in the Supreme Court.
In a statement released by its Central Media Department, the party said ECP’s schedule was based on “ill-intent” and “in contravention to the Constitution”.
“After the premature dissolution of the National Assembly, the Constitution binds the ECP to hold elections within 90 days,” it stated, adding that the electoral watchdog’s notification was an attempt to extend the stay of the caretaker government.
The PTI statement added that the CCI’s decision to conduct delimitation according to the new census was being used to delay elections and claimed that the nation was being deprived of electing a leader of its choice out of “the fear of PTI’s popularity and support”.
Meanwhile, PPP spokesperson Faisal Karim Kundi said his party had demanded that elections should be held in accordance with the Constitution.
“There is no constitutional requirement to do delimitations but there is a constitutional requirement to hold elections within 90 days,” he added.