Census Delayed

Unsurprisingly, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has announced that the seventh digital housing and population census has been delayed for four months due to “procedural reasons”.

There were several indications over the year that this timeline for the census, like most instruments of huge consequence, would not proceed as planned. In April, reports stated that the ECP has set a timeframe of four months for completion of the exercise on the basis of the 2017 census and population statistics, a timeline which the commission had deemed highly improbable to fulfil a few days back.

These difficulties should have been predicted. Firstly, a census in Pakistan’s history has always been accompanied with controversy—the 2017 census raised a lot of contentions from different political parties, particularly the PPP which used the excuse of the census to delay local elections.

Moreover, just the fact that the census would be conducted digitally for the first time demonstrated the formidability of the task. The truth of the matter is that while digital mechanisms are doubtless the way to go, in all jurisdictions they are frayed with complication, but in Pakistan, where the desired technology will in all likelihood need to be imported, it is even more so. It is highly important to back up the digital experiment with a regular paper trail since this is the first time. Training of staff and a whole host of other issues could lead to more errors in the count, which is why the implementation of digital setups is generally given more time.

While the delay is unfortunate and will inevitably lead to protests by political factors who desire earlier delimitation or early elections, it is of utmost importance that this process is completed properly, and it is better to be late than unprepared. A census can redefine constituencies, demographics and limitations, thus having a big impact on elections and politics—these cannot be rushed.

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