ISLAMABAD, July 30: A top official of the Election Commission of Pakistan told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday that the next general elections would be held on the basis of existing constituencies.

“Since the government has failed to complete the national population census the ECP is bound to keep old constituencies intact for the general elections scheduled to be held in 2013,” ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan said in reply to a question during a meeting of the PAC.

There would be no change in the constituencies for the next elections, he told the meeting held here at the Parliament House with PPP’s Nadeem Afzal Gondal in the chair. The secretary was responding to audit objections raised on the ECP for the period between 2005 and 2007. He said the population census was a constitutional requirement for changing geographical limits of a constituency.

Mr Khan said that according to the Population Census Organisation, the final report on the census was expected in the later part of next year, leaving the ECP in no position to take up delimitations of constituencies prior to the polls.

Answering a question, the ECP secretary said that over a period of time some constituencies had undergone geographical changes which under the Delimitation Act could be re-described by the Election Commission.

For carrying out delimitation of a constituency, he said, the ECP was to hold public hearing but as far as re-description of a constituency was concerned there was no such procedure to follow.

For example, he said, if there was addition of some new district or tehsil to a constituency that needed to be explained in the re-description of the constituency.

In October, when the Pakistan Census Organisation shared the findings of house listing with political parties – a mandatory exercise before population census – the PML-N raised objections. The party sought clarifications on the findings of the house listing census which showed an 84 per cent increase in the number of households in Sindh from 1998 to 2011, as compared to only 32 per cent increase in Punjab.

According to the house listing census, Hyderabad, Karachi, Jacobabad and Jamshoro districts recorded an increase of 129 per cent, 114 per cent, 111 per cent and 102 per cent, respectively, but Lahore district showed only 0.94 per cent growth in households. The issue of national census has since been lying stuck with the Council of Common Interests.

Judges as ROs

The issue of the Supreme Court barring judges from working as returning officers also came up for discussion during the PAC meeting. Mr Khan told the committee that under the Judicial Policy 2009 the Supreme Court of Pakistan had barred the judiciary from conducting the elections.

The PAC chairman said returning officers must be from judiciary because if matters were left to provincial governments it might lead to rigging.

Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada of the PML-Q endorsed the view and said it was not possible for the district management to ensure free and fair elections. Therefore, he said, the ECP should insist on judiciary’s supervisory role.

The ECP secretary said the commission had taken up the matter with the Supreme Court, pleading to review its decision but the court was not ready to spare members of judiciary for performing duties of retuning officers.

He said the ECP had moved a bill seeking permission to place the administrative machinery under its control to ensure free and fair polls. He said the bill was currently at the committee level.

Mr Khan informed the PAC that on Tuesday Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim would issue final electoral rolls. The voter lists would be made public and available for correction, he said.