As the Council of Common Interests (CCI) ratified the Census 2023 results, a cloud of uncertainty hovers over the upcoming general elections in Pakistan. While the digital census was a crucial milestone, it has now become entangled with the election issue, raising concerns about possible delays in the electoral process.
The CCI’s unanimous approval of the census results, indicating a population of 241.49 million with a growth rate of 2.55%, triggers the need for a new delimitation of constituencies. Some experts argue that this constitutional requirement could potentially push the elections beyond the initially scheduled date, possibly until Spring 2024.
Former Senate chairman and PPP leader, Senator Raza Rabbani, called upon the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to address the rumours surrounding election delays. He stressed that elections must be held within 60 to 90 days after the government’s term’s completion, as mandated by the Constitution. Dissenting voices raised objections, with JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza expressing concern over the reduction in Balochistan’s population by 6.4 million in the latest census results. He criticised the government for approving the results and accused them of neglecting the province’s interests.
The clash of opinions within the parliament reflects the complexities of balancing constitutional requirements with political interests. While the digital census aimed to address previous issues in the 2017 exercise and improve policymaking and resource allocation, it now faces the risk of being politicised as it is now entangled with the elections issue.
The constitutional necessity of conducting a census and its role in determining electoral representation are undeniable. However, concerns arise when constitutional requirements align with certain political interests, potentially leading to the manipulation of the electoral timeline. The sanctity of the democratic process must be preserved, and the ECP should fulfil its responsibility to complete the delimitation process expeditiously.
The fear of election delays is not unfounded. A prolonged postponement can undermine the democratic principles that Pakistan upholds, eroding public trust in the system. The reasoning being put forth makes all of this sound and appear very noble, and everything is being done by the books, but the intentions behind these decisions point towards seeking to delay the elections as much as possible. It is crucial for the Election Commission of Pakistan to provide clear and transparent communication on the delimitation process and address any reservations or objections from political parties.