A population count of Pakistan has been done after nearly two decades and the bureau conducting the census has announced to declare the provisional results of this huge exercise by the end of July.
Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) claims the sixth housing and population census of the country has covered 151 districts of the four provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). However, according to officials, the count could not cover some blocks of South Waziristan and Mohmand Agency in FATA due to security reasons. The first phase of the census ended on April 15, while the second phase was completed on May 25. The government, according to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, spent Rs18.5 billion on the census, of which Rs6bn was spent on army personnel and a similar amount on the PBS staff. The remaining Rs6.5bn was spent on providing transportation.
After completing the count, the PBS, responsible for census operations, has received all census forms and questionnaires from its field formations. Provisional results are scheduled by the end of July, while a final, government-approved count from national to district level is possible by April 2018.
The complaints and concerns of public started rising soon after the first phase of house count concluded in March this year. Many citizens in different parts of the country including big cities like Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, complained that their houses were left uncounted or they, somehow, have been excluded from the process.
Habib Ullah Khan, Member Census and Surveys of the PBS, however, dispels the impression of excluding people from the count, saying there was a proper complaint cell set up to deal with all sort of complaints. “We also advertised in print and electronic media urging people to contact us if the census teams had not approached them. So far, the PBS has received nearly 4,000 complaints from all over Pakistan.”
Khan says the PBS ensured that the survey teams visit the missed areas. And if some houses were left behind despite this campaign, “they have to wait for the next census for obvious reasons”.
Regarding the political concerns and reports of electoral changes because of the new count, Khan maintains “it was up to the government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) because they are only a data compiling agency that will forward the results to the government”.
A major increase in the number of electoral constituencies is expected. That is why the ECP, from time to time, had insisted on compiling the census results as early as possible.
On June 21, the ECP held a meeting with Chief Census Commissioner, and announced that the next general elections, likely in August 2018, were not possible on new delimitations on the basis of sixth population census count.
Following the confirmation that final result could not possibly be printed before April 2018, the ECP chief announced law does not allow the commission to change delimitations in an interim arrangement.
The ECP needs final, printed and accurate data for designing new delimitations which is not possible with provisional results. Following the confirmation that final result could not possibly be printed before April 2018, the ECP chief announced law does not allow the commission to change delimitations in an interim arrangement.
The ECP declared that after the final results, it needs at least seven to eight months to revise delimitations of constituencies, which means it is not possible to conduct next year’s general elections according to new population count.
Thus, political divisions, polarisation and challenges around reallocation of seats, status of FATA, shift in urban-rural demography are some critical issues to be faced in the coming weeks, after the provisional results are announced.
“We expect a credible census data that can be used for our social development, planning, governance and of course for a larger national consensus and political settlements including FATA, rural-urban patterns, and distribution of political power among the federating units,” says Shahid Fayyaz, chief executive officer of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).
He views the new census data is going to have a huge impact on the constituency delimitation.
“Currently we see massive discrepancies in the way constituencies have been crafted. The number of votes in constituencies range from 92,713 (NA-41 Tribal Area-VI, South Wazirstan Agency) to 53,1865 (NA-19 Haripur), which, essentially, means under- and/or over-representation in different parts of the country which is unfair and against the key principle of equal suffrage,” says Fayyaz.
One can imagine that change in provincial and district demography will require increase or decrease in the number of national and provincial assembly constituencies. That will require amendments in the constitution.
The FAFEN CEO maintains the current law on delimitation (Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974) does not explicitly provide framework and timeline for new delimitations. It only alludes to reallocation of seats after every census. The proposed election law (draft Elections Bill, 2017), however, specifies that delimitation will be due after every census and in the absence of (a) census, after every ten years on the basis of electoral rolls. Both existing and proposed laws don’t deal with the number of seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies which has been defined in the Constitution. This makes delimitation a lot more complex and complicated process.
“The trouble is that if new census data demands decrease or increase in the number of seats allocated to provinces, it would require an amendment in the constitution. The ECP would also need final and gazetted census results to be able to undertake delimitation which may not be possible for census organisation to provide to the ECP by the end of this month,” says Fayyaz, thinking the ECP will have to hold elections with current delimitations.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, the founder President of PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency), also thinks holding of general elections with current delimitations despite having conducted the new census “will create an anomaly because of political considerations of different groups banking on the new census count”.
However, it should not be taken as a serious thing because accuracy is more important. He recalls that “in the 2002 general elections electoral rolls were hastily prepared on the Supreme Court orders and later huge mistakes were found in the lists. The best thing is to have accuracy to avoid further problems,” says Mehboob.
Mehboob feels that “political groups that are likely to benefit because of the census results will be at loss due to old delimitations and may raise their voice. The ECP and census department need to take all political parties into confidence by informing them about the situation.”