After many tedious discussions, some give and take by political parties, the 24th constitutional amendment bill that makes provisions for fresh delimitation of constituencies on the basis of provisional results of the 6th population census has finally become a law. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has formally begun the process of redrawing the federal and provincial electoral constituencies which may affect the local political arrangements in many constituencies, most in Punjab.
After the census, the constitutional amendment, that may allow the 2018 elections to be held on time, had become a constitutional requirement. The National Assembly passed the amendment on November 16 while the Senate, where the opposition parties constitute a majority, voted in favour of the bill on December 19.
The Council of Common Interests (CCI) has approved a third party validation in selected census blocks to address reservations of political parties before finalising the delimitation process.
The provisional census results have also affected the province-wise allocation of the National Assembly. Based on the population and growth rate, Punjab is set to lose seven National Assembly seats. Out of these seven lost seats of Punjab, four will go to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two to Balochistan and one to Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
It is assumed that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) will be the main beneficiary of this reallocation because of the four additional seats in KP while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) may face a setback after losing seven seats in Punjab, the party’s stronghold. Punjab will also lose two reserved seats for women — one each to KP and Balochistan.
There cannot be an increase in the National Assembly (NA) seats on the basis of the 6th population census unless provision for another constitutional amendment is made. Till then, the National Assembly seats remain unchanged at 272 and 70 reserved seats (60 for women and 10 for minorities).
According to the newly-passed 24th constitutional amendment, out of the total 342 seats in the lower house, Balochistan will have 16 general and four women reserved seats; KP 39 general and nine reserved seats; Punjab 141 general and 33 reserved seats; Sindh 61 general and 14 reserved seats; Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) 12 general seats; and ICT will have three general seats.
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The delimitation is expected to hugely impact the local electoral maps, particularly in Punjab. Besides losing seven seats to other provinces, Punjab will meet gains and losses in many districts. Also, with the new census, one NA constituency, according to estimates, will comprise 750,000 (0.7million) people and 400,000-500,000 registered voters. The number of total voters may go up to 110 million.
In Punjab, Lahore will have one more NA seat, while there will be an increase in seats in many districts of southern Punjab and other developed districts in upper Punjab might lose some seats, which means balance of power may tilt towards the south this time.
“Although the reallocation of National Assembly seats will not affect parties much, the delimitation will certainly affect politics of the ‘electables’, especially in Punjab, where PML-N and PTI are in close contest,” says Suhail Warraich, political analyst. He adds the redrawing of constituencies will disrupt old methods of politics of electables across Punjab, and “many of them might have to face political losses amid purely political elections this time”.
Senior journalist Iftikhar Ahmed says the delimitation will affect the vote bank of electables, “some will lose, some will gain”. He thinks it is a technical issue and many local political figures might object to the new arrangements — but “this will not create a serious impact on the overall political situation”.
In the demarcation process, according to the ECP, “all constituencies, legally, are required to be delimited having regard to the distribution of population in geographically compact areas, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication , public convenience and other cognate factors to ensure homogeneity in the creation of constituencies. It is important to consider that all constituencies for the general seats are, as far as possible, equal in population. The Election Commission, which for this purpose is called the Delimitation Commission, publishes a preliminary list of constituencies and invites representations thereon. The Commission after hearing and considering the representations, if any received by it, makes such amendments, alterations or modifications in the preliminary list as may be necessary. It then publishes in the Official Gazette the final report and the list of constituencies.”
The existing Article 51 (5) requires that the “seats in the National Assembly shall be allocated to each Province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Federal Capital on the basis of population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published”. According to the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974, the constituencies for elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies are to be delimited after every census.
The ECP is scheduled to complete the process to delimit constituencies by the first week of May to allow the required period of four months to candidates to run an effective election campaign in the new scheme of constituencies.