ISLAMABAD - The Senate yesterday witnessed uproar over the issue of expected delay for several months in the general elections as the government has decided to hold polls on the new digital census.
Senior Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) leader and former Senate chairman, Senator Raza Rabbani said in the house that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must offer an explanation on the rumours surrounding a possible delay in general elections in the country.
The controversy had started Saturday last after the Council of Common Interests (CCI) unanimously approved the results of the 7th population and housing census, announcing that the population of the country has reached 241.49 million with a growth rate of 2.55 percent as reported by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). The CCI meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and attended by chief ministers of all provinces, three federal ministers and key leaders of the allied parties invited on special invitation.
According to constitutional and political experts, the CCI decision is likely to result in a delay in general elections due in November this year if the assemblies are dissolved before expiry of the tenure. A new census means a new delimitation of constituencies, which, according to some experts, may take at least four months. Federal Minister for Law Azam Nazeer Tarar also hinted at the possibility of delay in elections. “It is up to the ECP as to how much time it takes to complete the process of delimitation following the unanimous decision by CCI,” Tarar said.
Speaking on the Senate floor Sunday, Rabbani said there is a fear of delay in the elections after the approval of the digital census. He mentioned, “According to the Constitution, elections must be held within 60 to 90 days [after the government completes its terms]”.
“The ECP must break its silence on the matter,” he urged the election watchdog and asked to complete the process of delimiting constituencies at the earliest. “The federation will be destroyed if elections are delayed,” he warned.
Leader of the House and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar while speaking on the occasion, defended the digital census saying, “The Balochistan chief minister was also present in the meeting”. “The census was approved with consensus of all provinces,” he claimed and added all digital census records are there for everyone to see.
Dar also said that the decision to conduct an online consensus before the elections was approved by the previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and informed the house that Rs34 billion had been spent on the exercise. However, Dar was challenged severely by the other senators.
On the other hand, PTI senators protested for not being granted permission to speak during the session. Senator Afnanullah of the PML-N also joined the protest. Senator Kamran Murtaza of the JUI-F while expressing his views said the results from the latest census shows that Balochistan’s population has been reduced by 6.4 million. “What message we are sending to the people of the province,” he said criticizing the government for approving the census results.
“Those who approved the census results yesterday are responsible for the plight of Balochistan,” he added before walking out of the house in protest. However, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar responded to Murtaza’s concerns by saying that “his party’s parliamentary leader was present in the CCI meeting as well”.
He said data was also collected through satellites with the help of Sparco, offering to share it to help remove any reservations his colleagues had about the results. He said the responsibility to complete the delimitation of the constituencies falls on the ECP. “We don’t want a delay in the elections,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senate passed the HEC (Amendment) Bill, 2023 with a majority vote. The bill aims to strengthen and revitalize the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The Bill was moved by the Law Minister and was passed by the House with 23 votes in favour and 16 in opposition. The prime minister has been given the controlling authority of the Higher Education Commission.
The term of appointment for the HEC Chairman has been extended to four years from the previous three years under the new legislation. The bill included all four amendments proposed by Senator Raza Rabbani. The Law Minister said the HEC Amendment bill has resulted in a reduction of powers of the HEC instead of enhancing them. While three provinces have established their Higher Education Commissions, one province is yet to do so. Nevertheless, the HEC has been strengthened and revitalized, he said.