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Census crisis: Can the senate uproar ensure timely elections?

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News Analysis |

Senators from Sindh, Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on Wednesday expressed serious reservations over the recently held population census and demanded the government to resolve their issues. This is the latest in a crisis that could lead to a delay in the 2018 elections.

Senators on Wednesday censured the government for not realizing the effect of further delay in addressing provinces’ reservations over ‘flawed’ census results and suggested re-verification of the results through a post-census survey of selected areas. The upper house members were of the view that the government should seriously consider the reservations of the provinces regarding the Census 2017 as the prevailing situation could cause a constitutional crisis.

The Election Commission of Pakistan had set November 10 as a deadline so that it could get adequate time for fresh delimitations, the inclusion of over one million new people in the electoral rolls.

PTI, wanting the elections on time, has gone as far as saying that the elections should be held according to the 1998 census. Fawad Chaudry stated, “when we can have elections in a country without a census for 19 years, then what’s wrong in holding another election on the basis of previous data without waiting for the final results of the new census”.

Read more: Sixth Census: A bright beginning but fraught with challenges.

MQM-P leader Farooq Sattar recently made the claim that the census had halved the number of people living in Karachi.  The PPP was particularly vocal over the census results. Senator Taj Haider made similar claims as Sattar claiming that the population of Karachi was reduced by five million while his party colleague Sehar Kamran termed it the inability of the government to conduct a transparent population census.

Haider asserted that the census results did not match the figures compiled by the Bureau of Statistics in 2011 on the basis of the house count in Sindh, adding that even the NADRA data put the population of Sindh on a higher side. He said the census results contradicted the previous population figures released by the bureau and NADRA.

PML (N), while having a majority in the National Assembly, has failed twice to bring the required strength of 228 members necessary in order to amend the constitutional provision.

Senator Usman Kakar from Balochistan claimed that no actual population census has been held since the creation of the country. PML (Q)’s Kamil Ali Agha termed the census as not a mere issue of increase or decrease in seats but also of just division of resources. The PTI Senator Azam Swati considered the disputed census a government failure despite spending billions of rupees.

PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi responded by asking who would benefit for changing the actual figure of the census. He further claimed that the whole world was trying to reduce higher population growth but here public representatives fight for why there was a reduction in population.  He also alleged that the census was being made controversial in order to delay the 2018 elections.

Read more: Census 2017 raises suspicion from many quarters…

The 2017 census was conducted 19 years after the previous census. The exercise has become controversial due to its lack of transparency. This has led to the validity of the entire exercise being questioned by people from across the social spectrum. The political leaders of Sindh are some of the more prominent politicians questioning the authenticity of the census as the Sindh Assembly has already rejected the Census.

According to observers, the wrangling in parliament is due to the new delimitations of assembly seats.

The political leaders of Sindh are some of the more prominent politicians questioning the authenticity of the census as the Sindh Assembly has already rejected the Census.

After Census 2017, the next elections were to be held on the basis of fresh delimitations, though Punjab was to face the deficit of seven general seats against an increase of four general seats in KP, two in Balochistan and one in the federal capital. The number of general seats was to remain 272 after the fresh census.

In order to incorporate this change, Article 51 of the Constitution has to be amended. Yet no such amendment has taken place. PML (N), while having a majority in the National Assembly, has failed twice to bring the required strength of 228 members necessary in order to amend the constitutional provision. The opposition parties have also shown no concern in amending the law for reshuffling the NA seats.

Read more: MQM rejects census results, demands “true population record”

The upper house members were of the view that the government should seriously consider the reservations of the provinces regarding the Census 2017.

 PML (N) is said to be delaying the proposed constitutional changes through the absence of full strength for two reasons. One is that it wants to safeguard its seats in Punjab and second is to postpone the 2018 elections. PPP wants the elections on time but only after an increase in the share of Sindh.

The Election Commission of Pakistan had set November 10 as a deadline so that it could get adequate time for fresh delimitations, the inclusion of over one million new people in the electoral rolls and updating them under various demographical heads. Now the likelihood of holding general elections in time next year on the basis of fresh delimitations appears to have ended due to either political duplicity or other reasons we are currently unaware of.


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