ISLAMABAD: As the Election Commission moves to redraw constituencies based on the latest census, the monitoring group Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) has urged the electoral watchdog to strictly ensure each constituency has roughly the same number of residents.

The delimitation of constituencies follows recent amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, including the insertion of a new proviso to Section 20(3), which now does not require the ECP to “strictly adhere” to the existing district boundaries if doing so causes the variance in the population of constituencies of an assembly to surpass 10 per cent.

Fafen said such measures were necessary to hold fair elections, as required under Article 218(3) of the Constitution. It said unequal constituencies also violated the spirit of the constitutionally guaranteed equality of citizens before the law under Article 25.

The group said the new proviso had neutralised the requirement in Section 20(1), which compelled the Election Commission to regard the existing boundaries of administrative units when redrawing constituencies.

Fafen says population disparity violates spirit of constitutionally guaranteed equality of citizens

It would also minimise the executive’s influence on the delimitation process, which previously might do so by creating or redefining the boundaries of an existing administrative unit.

Fafen said strictly adhering to district boundaries during the delimitation of the National Assembly and provincial assembly constituencies completed in 2022 resulted in 82 National Assembly and 88 provincial assembly constituencies having a population varying by more than 10pc from the respective quotas per seat, i.e. average population of a constituency for each province, as calculated under Rules 8(1) and 8(4) of the Election Rules, 2017.

It said National Assembly constituencies with more than 10pc population variations included 34 constituencies in Punjab, 22 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 23 in Sindh, and three in Balochistan. The provincial assembly constituencies included 30 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 28 in Balochistan, 18 in Sindh, and 12 in Punjab.

The largest NA constituency — NA-39 Bannu, with a population of over 1.2 million — was nearly three times bigger than the smallest constituency, NA-42 Tank having a population of 427,044.

For the provincial assemblies, the largest constituency of Balochistan Assembly PB-3 Killa Saifullah (342,932) had around three times more population than PB-23 Awaran (121,821); in KP, PK-108 Tank (427,044) had 2.5 times more population than the smallest PK-1 Upper Chitral (169,297); in Punjab, PP-83 Khushab-II (444,166) had 1.3 times more population than the smallest PP-93 Chiniot-I (324,878); and, in Sindh, PS-34 Naushehro Feroze-II (436,288) had 1.3 times more population than the smallest PS-80 Jamshoro-I (315,390).

Fafen estimates that if district boundaries are to be respected like in the past, the population variance of National Assembly constituencies from their respective regional quotas may exceed 10pc for constituencies of two-thirds of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts, half of Sindh districts, one-third of Punjab districts and all Balochistan districts.

The monitoring group has recommended that the Election Commission may consider amending its rules on the redrawing constituencies to materialise the spirit of the newly added proviso to Section 20(3) of the Elections Act.

It has also recommended amendments to Rules 10(4) and 10(5) to limit population variance to a maximum of 10pc within a province instead of 5pc within a district.

Additionally, in the interest of electoral transparency, the ECP must also add a column in Form 7 (final list of constituencies) to provide an updated population of final constituencies after the disposal of representations filed on the draft list of constituencies.

The commission may also make it binding upon delimitation committees to provide a constituency-wise explanation of the exceptional cases where variance exceeds 10pc. Although the Preliminary Report of Delimitation of Constituencies, 2022, mentioned reasons for deviations, an exhaustive list of the reasons for each such case was missing, Fafen noted.

The group urged the ECP to also consider inserting in its rules a clear definition of the cognate factors to be regarded during the delimitation of constituencies as provided in Section 20(1) of the Act to minimise the discretionary space available to delimitation committees.

Fafen also recommends amending Rules 12 and 13 concerning making, hearing and disposing of representations to facilitate those voters who wish to make representations on the delimitation proposals.

It said the ECP might consider pre-hearing scrutiny of the representations to identify only those that offer convincing evidence and grounds for their proposed changes.

Fafen reiterated that substantial improvements in delimitation were critical to improving the electoral process, preventing population imbalance across electoral precincts, and ensuring the representative-ness of all geographical, linguist, ethnic, and religious diversity in the elected bodies.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2023

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