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Photo Source: Pakistan Bureau of Statistics

Pakistan Reader# 645, 18 August 2023

Election Commission to undertake delimitation. Five things to know



This census holds historic significance as it marks the first time that Pakistan’s population was tracked digitally

Dhriti Mukherjee

On delimitation, what has the Election Commission decided?
On 17 August, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced that as per the delimitation that will be carried out, elections will now be delayed beyond 90 days despite the constitution’s provisions. The delimitation is being conducted in response to the findings of the 7th Population and Housing Census, 2023, as well as the legal provisions stipulated in Article 51 of the Constitution and Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, 2017. The projected timeline indicates that the delimitation process will conclude on 14 December, meaning the upcoming general elections are likely to experience a delay beyond the conventional 90-day constitutional limit.

What did the Council of Common Interests (CCI) say?
The decision to undertake the delimitation exercise was driven by the approval of the official results from the 7th Population and Housing Census, 2023, by the Council of Common Interests (CCI). The population census revealed certain changes in demographic data. This prompted questions over the necessity of recalibrating the electoral constituencies, so that the entire population could be represented efficiently and fairly. These reactions showcased the importance of the relationship between the country’s electoral framework and evolving demography. By sanctioning the census results and thereby prompting the delimitation process, the CCI has indirectly influenced the timeline of the upcoming general elections. It also explicitly proves Pakistan’s attempt to make such processes which are an integral part of a democratic set up, more transparent and accurate, by guaranteeing that citizens have an equal say.

The new Census: What does the data reveal?
The 7th Population and Housing Census, 2023, gave a comprehensive overview of the present-day demographic landscape of Pakistan, including information on distribution and urbanization. The data from this census can be compared to previous ones, to allow an understanding of the shifts Pakistan’s population has experienced within its constituencies. Based on this, the delimitation process is carried out in a data-driven manner, to ensure each constituency corresponds to a roughly equal number of citizens. The accuracy of this process is vital for upholding the principle of "one person, one vote," as it guarantees that citizens' voices are not diluted by unequal constituency sizes.
 
This census holds historic significance as it marks the first time that Pakistan’s population was tracked digitally. However, there were calls for protests against the “fake census” by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which said that the digital census aimed at reducing the population of Karachi. More questions arose when there was a revision to the census made, which led to a decline in the population count from 250 to 241.5 million in three months. 
 
Who is opposed to delimitation? Why?
Although this decision has been opposed by various actors, the PTI has proven to be the most prominent critic. It regards the delimitation exercise which will lead to an election delay as a “ploy to delay polls.” A PTI spokesperson said that the decision is a malicious deviation from Article 224 of the Constitution which mandates organizing general elections within 90 days of delimitation. It has also announced that it will challenge the decision in the Supreme Court on 18 August.
 
Aside from the PTI, the president of the think- tank PILDAT stated: “A law cannot overrule the constitution,” adding that despite the census results, “delimitation is not a constitutional requirement.” There are also remarks from contesting parties which believe that this is a tactic to give the caretaker government more power to convene on “urgent matters.” 
 
What does the above mean?
Primarily, the ECP’s decision to undertake the delimitation process means that Pakistan’s general elections will be delayed. The “cryptic” nature with which updates are being announced has become a cause of worry over whether the elections will be conducted at all. Although the census highlights the need for delimitation to maximise the democratic nature of the elections, the decision’s timing and resultant in elections have sparked debates and controversies. It has been predicted that the elections are likely to be held in February 2024, a month before the Senate elections. The Director Programs at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) Muddassir Rizvi spoke in favour of this possibility, saying: “One of the upsides to this can be that one of the biggest aberrations in our constituencies — unequal constituency strengths — can also be fixed. The newly amended election law makes it easier to allow for equal constituencies.”
 
References
(“ECP schedule,” The News International, 18 August 2023; Zebunnisa Burki, “Delimitation not a constitutional requirement,” The News International, 18 August 2023; Mumtaz Alvi, “Polls not being held in 90 days,” The News International, 18 August 2023; Iftikhar A Khan, “Polls not possible this year after ECP decision,” Dawn, 18 August 2023)

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