With all eyes now focused on the upcoming general elections to resolve the ongoing political crisis in the country, the ECP has demanded the release of the 7th Housing and Population Census by December 31 this year so that the process of fresh delimitation of constituencies can be done in time. The next census is expected to start from August 1 this year with the results being provided by the end of the year to the ECP. Since it is constitutionally mandatory to conduct a fresh demarcation of constituencies after the census, the ECP has said that the elections will likely be held in May 2023 as it will require at least four months for the delimitation process.

These are really strict deadlines that will have to be adhered to if we are to conduct general elections by May next year. It remains to be seen if the census goes ahead smoothly on schedule, especially considering how this will be the first digital census to be conducted in the country’s history. Implementation of technology at such a mass scale will inevitably give rise to teething problems when it comes to handling and processing data. The hope is that these hurdles have been factored in by the planning authorities and that they won’t derail the general election timeline.

Adding to the stress of tight deadlines is the pressure being applied by the PTI to conduct elections at the earliest. Earlier this month, the PTI approached the Supreme Court seeking a declaration that the delimitation schedule announced by the ECP on April 11 was ‘illegal’ and ‘unconstitutional’. The commission has unequivocally stated that it is discharging its constitutional and legal responsibilities with complete impartiality and would continue to do so without any pressure or persuasion. The whole process has become extremely charged politically with the PTI claiming that the ECP officials are biased against the party. This is an interesting allegation considering that most of these officials had been handpicked by the former government.

If the whole process is carried out smoothly without any major hurdles, the ECP should have sufficient time to complete the delimitation of constituencies. Completing this process is particularly important in light of the grievances over the 2017 results. The upcoming elections will be held in a very polarised environment, which makes it all the more important that all steps are taken to avoid any controversies that could derail the political and democratic process.