The (political) science behind delimitation

To stay within the 266 seat-limit for the National Assembly, there has been some ‘creative’ redrawing of constituency boundaries, which in certain cases give particular parties a definite edge over their rivals in the area.
Published January 17, 2024

With each passing day, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and political parties are achieving election-related milestones, even though uncertainty still shrouds the prospects of polls on Feb 8. While the commission has allotted symbols and parties have announced their candidates, none of the endeavours have been without contention.

Arguably, the most contentious of all processes was delimitation carried out late last year. The roots of the widespread discontent surrounding the exercise stemmed from a meeting held in August 2023.

Four days before it dissolved the National Assembly on August 9, 2023, the coalition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government convened the Council of Common Interests to approve the results of the 2023 digital census.

The move effectively shut the door on the prospects of elections within the 90-day constitutional limit as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had to conduct fresh delimitation of constituencies. The compulsion was due to the stipulation laid down in Article 51(5) of the Constitution which states, “[The] seats in the National Assembly shall be allocated to each Province and the Federal Capital on the basis of population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published.”

While delimitation of constituencies is a fairly routine exercise, it was different this time around for one reason: there was no elected government in power during the process. In the absence of a National Assembly, the total number of seats couldn’t be modified as it requires a constitutional amendment, which again, can’t be done without an elected lower house of the Parliament.

So even though the population increased from 207.7 million in 2017 to 241.5m in 2023, the number of general seats in the National Assembly had to remain the same — 266 — as provided under Article 51(3) of the Constitution.

According to the final delimitations published by the ECP, the total general seats in NA were 266. Of them, 141 seats are in Punjab, 61 in Sindh, 45 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 16 in Balochistan and three in Islamabad.

The total has been reduced by six from the 2018 tally of 272, with seats of the ex-Fata reduced from 12 to six after its merger with KP. This was done in line with the 25th constitutional amendment which merged the tribal districts with KP.

According to Lehaz Ali, a Peshawar-based journalist who has extensively covered politics in KP, the reduction in the seats of erstwhile Fata was the result of “population rationalisation”.

“Former Fata had 12 seats [till 2018 elections]. Since it was an underprivileged area, it was given more seats compared to its population. Now Fata is part of KP, and their seat distribution has been bought at par with the remaining parts of the province.”

More people, same seats

Despite the population increase of over 33m between the two censuses, the ECP was bound to keep the number of seats fixed. So, it had no other option but to increase the province-wise quota of population for each seat — calculated by dividing the total population of a province by the number of allocated seats.

This quota serves as the base for delimitation at the district level. In 2018, the quota for each general NA seat came out to be: 780,266 for Punjab, 785,135 for Sindh, 782,651 for KP, 416,380 for Fata, 771,546 for Balochistan and 667,193 for Islamabad.

In 2023, the quotas increased to 905,595 for Punjab, 913,052 for Sindh, 907,913 for KP, 930,900 for Balochistan and 787,954 for Islamabad.

 . *Population ÷ No. of seats **With six added seats of former Fata

To determine the number of seats for each district, its population is divided by the pre-determined quota for that province. It gives a number which is the total seats allocated to that district. If the number is less than 1, the district is merged with its neighbour to round off the tally.

For the number of constituents, the total population of the said district is divided by the total number of seats allocated to that district.

For example, as per the 2023 census, the population of Lahore district is 13,004,135 and the quota for Punjab is 905,595. Their division would give 14.36, rounded off to 14, NA seats in Lahore. The total population of Lahore is then divided by 14, to arrive at 928,866 — the population of each constituency in the district.

This number of constituents for each NA varies for every district across the country.

It is important to note that while marking each constituency, the ECP keeps a lower and upper margin of 0.5 fraction or five per cent. It means that a constituency can be carved with a population that is 5pc less or 5pc more than the pre-determined number of constituents. For example, in the case of Lahore district, the 5pc vacation comes at 46,443, so, each constituency in the district can be created with a lower population limit of 882,423 or an upper limit of 975,309.

The discontent

The ECP notified preliminary delimitation or Form 5 on September 27, 2023, and published the list, along with maps, on its website. It then invited objections on preliminary delimitation till Oct 27.

A total of 1,327 representations, or objections, were filed over the preliminary delimitation. Of them, 675 were filed from Punjab, 228 from Sindh, 293 from KP, 124 from Balochistan and seven from Islamabad.

Punjab remodified

Under the compulsion of a fixed number of seats, the ECP rearranged constituencies in two ways: in areas with less population, multiple districts have been merged to reach the population threshold, while in major urban centres, existing constituencies have been marked in such a way that it resulted in significant variations from their previous boundaries.

Being the province with the biggest share of seats, Punjab saw the most changes in the delimitation of its constituencies.

According to journalist Majid Nizami, who studies political trends, almost all constituencies, in Lahore, have changed drastically and the situation is the same in all towns, divisional headquarters and district headquarters of the provinces.

NA-57 Rawalpindi-I of the 2018 elections became NA-51 Rawalpindi-cum-Muree since Murree has been upgraded from tehsil to district. The boundaries of NA-59 Talagang-cum-Chakwal also changed due to the upgradation of Talagang from tehsil to district. Previously, the area was included in NA-65 Chakwal-II.

Similar changes have taken place due to the designation of Wazirabad as a district. The area carved out of Gujranwala, qualified for one seat in the National Assembly. This also resulted in a significant reorientation of NA-77 Gujranwala-I, which was previously NA-79 Gujranwala-I, comprised entirely of the then Wazirabad tehsil. It now includes major chunks of Gujranwala Cantt and Saddar areas.

Interestingly, Hafizabad district had a population of 1,319,909, according to the 2023 census, making it eligible for a separate NA seat. Despite the fact that Hafizabad had a separate seat in 2018, in the preliminary delimitation for 2023, the district was split into two constituencies: NA-67 Hafizabad and NA-81 Gujranwala-cum-Hafizabad. After various objections were filed, the delimitation for NA-81 was modified to Gujranwala-V and the entire Hafizabad district was included in NA-67.

The southern region of Punjab saw the most significant realignment in delimitation as compared to previous elections. Muzaffargarh district lost two seats to the newly carved Kot Addu district, which had a population of 1,486,758. Similarly, the new Taunsa district ate into the share of D.G. Khan, bringing down its total seats from four to three.

The southern region of Punjab saw the most significant realignment in delimitation as compared to previous elections. Muzaffargarh district lost two seats to the newly carved Kot Addu district which had a population of 1,486,758. Similarly, the new Taunsa district ate into the share of D.G. Khan, bringing down its total seats from four to three.

Meanwhile, in city centres, the boundaries of previous constituencies have been stretched to an extent that some doubled in their size.

According to Mr Nizami, the delimitation of all semi-urban towns in Lahore has been changed “apparently to manage things before elections”.

“The first and integral part of pre-poll rigging is delimitation. You move a UC from one constituency to another to break a candidate’s stronghold. This has happened in Punjab and Lahore,” Mr Nizami says.

He cited the example of the constituency of PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafiq which included the area of Defence in the previous delimitation, but now it has been divided into three to four parts.

A consequence of such a major shift in Lahore’s delimitation was the tiff between PML-N’s Sheikh Rohail Asghar and Ayaz Sadiq, both of whom were vying for a ticket from the NA-121constituency, claiming that their areas from previous constituencies were merged into it after new delimitation.

In 2018, Mr Asghar won from NA-128 (Lahore-VI) which had Lahore’s City and some parts of the Shalimar tehsils. Mr Sadiq’s NA-129 (Lahore-VII) also included areas of Shalimar tehsil and Cantt. In the current delimitation, a major chunk of Lahore’s Cantt has been added to NA-120 — the constituency from where Mr Sadiq would contest next month.

Mr Nizami told Dawn that these delimitation have been done in a way so that they “facilitate PML-N just like in 2018 when the PTI was facilitated”.

The delimitation trend in other city centres also remained the same.

The area of 2018’s NA-110 Faisalabad-X, which lied mainly between the M-4 Motorway and Jhumra Road has been extended almost to the edge of Canal Road, with the addition of approx 8km area, to form NA-104.

In Multan, NA-158, which included almost all of Shujabad and some areas of Saddar in 2018 has now become NA-152 with the addition of Gajuhatta and Shershah.

The Fata merger

After fresh delimitation in KP, the seats of the former tribal areas of Bajaur, Khyber, and Kurram have been reduced from two to one each — NA-8, NA-27 and NA-37, respectively. The single seat of the ex-Orakzai agency has been merged with Hangu to form NA-36 Hangu-cum-Orakzai. The lone seat of North Waziristan has been retained and the two of South Waziristan have been merged to form NA-42 South Waziristan Upper-cum-South Waziristan Lower.

In other regions, the previous Chitral district has been divided into two: Upper Chitral and Lower Chitral, with both included in one constituency. However, no further realignments of districts took place as the mainland’s share of 39 seats remained intact.

In KP, there have been concerns over delimitation in the major centres, especially for provincial assembly seats.

According to Mr Ali, areas in Charsadda where Aftab Sherpao and his son, Sikandar Sherpao, had a majority have been lumped into one constituency. In Nowshera, constituencies for the KP Assembly have been created in line with the preferences of Pervez Khattak, he notes. “A similar trend has been witnessed in Mardan, Bannu and D.I. Khan.

He explained that KP can be divided into four regions: central, southern, Malakand and Hazara. The central region, which includes Peshawar, Mardan, Charsaddar, Nowhsera, Swabi, Khyber and Mohmand represents over 40pc of the province’s population and is the centre of power. “My analysis of the past four elections shows that the party which wins central KP forms government with support from other parties.”

In Peshawar and its surrounding areas, the PTI won the previous elections comprehensively and “wiped out the traditional political parties”, Mr Ali says, adding that in light of this, one provincial assembly seat was subtracted from Peshawar’s tally and reallocated to Shangla, apparently to “benefit someone else”.

Balochistan ‘underprivileged and underrepresented’

In the province with the largest and most sprawling constituencies, the delimitation of seats reflects its glaring underrepresentation in the NA. In 2018, Balochistan had the lowest population among all four provinces, and so was its quota of 771,546 people for each NA seat.

In 2023, the province still had the lowest population among all four provinces, but its per seat quota of 930,900 has now become the highest.

Talking about delimitation in Balocsihtan, Akbar Notezai, who has extensively reported on the province’s politics, said gerrymandering in Balochistan has been going on for decades, with underrepresentation being a long-standing grievance of the province’s political leaders.

He recalled that in the 70s, the province had only four general seats in the NA. “Balochistan doesn’t get counted in the mainstream, especially during the elections.”

While population-wise these constituencies have far lower constituents than other parts of the province, they span over huge swathes due to the merger of several districts.

Mr Notezai pointed out that Balochistan’s population has increased, but it hasn’t resulted in a proportionate increase in seats, resulting in the merger of several districts to reach the population quota for each constituency.

An example of this merger is NA-260 Chagai-cum-Nushki-cum-Kharan-cum-Washuk. Its estimated area is 98,596 sq km, as per the 2017 census. For comparison, all south Punjab districts, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, Rahim Yar Khan, Multan, Lodhran, Khanewal, Vehari, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur and Layyah have a combined area of 99,577 sq km.

The delimitation across the province largely remained the same with most comprising of whole districts. Only three districts — Nasirabad, Kech and Quetta — have been divided across constituencies.

In terms of the reorientation of districts, Ziarat, which was part of NA-258 Loralai-cum-Musa Khail-cum-Ziarat-cum-Duki-cum-Haranai has now been merged with Harani, Sibi, Dera Bugti and Kohlu to form NA-253. Shobatpur and Jaffarabad, which combined to form one seat in 2018, have now been clubbed with Usta Muhammad and Nasirabad in NA-255. In 2018, Lasbela was with Gwadar in NA-272. Now, it is a part of NA-257 with Awaran and Hub. District Kech previously qualified for an NA seat, but this time, it has been merged with Panjgur and Gwadar in two constituencies.

The three seats of Quetta have also undergone a significant modification. The city centre has been split into two constituencies, as compared to only one in 2018.

Similarly, NA-264 of 2018, which started from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to the city’s northern outskirts, has been extended further east up to the Kacchi district. This constituency, NA-262, circles from three sides, the other two constituencies — NA-263 and NA-264 — covering Quetta’s urban area.

‘Something for everyone in Karachi’

In Sindh, the delimitation in 2023 was largely along the same lines as the previous exercise, with only two major changes. Jacobabad and Kashmore districts had one seat each in the 2018 election. This time, the districts have been divided to accommodate them into two constituencies each. In another change, Sanghar district, which lost one seat that ended up being added to Karachi’s tally, taking the number of its constituencies to 22.

In Karachi, one notable change in delimitation took place in District West which had five seats in 2018. In 2023, the number was reduced to three, due to the creation of District Keamari which got the remaining two seats.

Abdul Jabbar Nasir, a veteran journalist with expertise on Karachi’s electoral dynamics, ruled out any planned gerrymandering, but was quick to point out that in some constituencies, delimitation hadn’t been done in line with the principle of homogeneity, which gave the impression that some “attempts at facilitating a particular party” have been made.

He pointed out some areas in Malir where the final delimitation varied from the preliminary one, with PPP “benefitting from these changes”.

Similarly, the delimitation of NA-237 in District East gives the impression that “MQM-Pakistan has been facilitated”.

“Four union councils from where Jamaat-i-Islami used to win have been moved from NA-237 to NA-238 and the UCs in the latter have been added to the former where the JI has less influence as compared to MQM-P.”

Another major change in District East took place in the delimitation of 2018’s NA-243 from where former prime minister Imran Khan won in the last general election. The constituency extended from Gulzar-i-Hijri to Jinnah International Airport. In 2023, the constituency was re-numbered to NA-236 and its boundary extended up to PAF Faisal Airbase.

In District South, said Mr Nasir, the delimitation of NA-239 and NA-240 is an “apparent attempt to accommodate both MQM-P and PPP”.

“It is difficult to say that constituencies in Karachi overwhelmingly favour one party, but it is true that the technical principles of delimitation weren’t followed in many areas,” Mr Nasir concluded.


Data compiled by DawnGIS

Layouts and maps designed by Farooq Dawood and Irfan Khan