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Next elections could be held on the basis of old census figures: Syed Khursheed Shah

06 November, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has endorsed a proposal of the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah that the next elections could be held on the basis of old census figures, but called for the polls to be held in April next year.

Talking to media on Sunday, PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said there was no harm in holding the general elections on the basis of 1998 census, but the new assemblies should come into existence before the end of April, when the announcement of the final results of the recently-held controversial census were expected to be announced.

“When we can have elections in the country without a census for 19 years, then what’s wrong in holding another election on the basis of previous data without waiting for the final results of the new census,” the PTI leader said while stressing the need that his party did not want to see the elections getting delayed on any excuse.

It was amid growing apprehensions that hiccups in the way of fresh delimitation of constituencies may delay the 2018 elections that Mr Shah had suggested that the vote could be held on the basis of old census figures.

He had categorically declared that his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would never support the constitutional amendment bill tabled by the government in the National Assembly on Nov 2 seeking reallocation of seats of the national and provincial assemblies, if the concerns of the Sindh province on the figures of fresh census were not removed.

At the same time, Mr Shah stated that the PPP would never want to see elections getting delayed.

Endorsing Mr Shah’s viewpoint that the concerns of smaller provinces over the census should be removed, Fawad Chaudhry said that instead of wasting energy on developing a consensus on the constitutional amendment bill seeking reallocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and other parties should make efforts for developing a consensus on early dissolution of the National Assembly and all the provincial legislatures to pave the way for early elections.

“The PTI gives a commitment that it will dissolve the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, if other parties agree on the proposal of early elections in the country,” he added.

“The PTI will not allow any delay in the elections on any excuse, including census,” he said, adding that Article 224 of the Constitution, which describes the “time of election and by-elections”, is very clear and unambiguous. He was of the view that early elections had become necessary in the wake of multiple crises being faced by the country.

When contacted, PML-N Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan rejected outright the PTI’s demand for early elections, claiming that no other party was demanding early polls.

Mr Khan said if the PTI was sincere in its demand for early elections it should first dissolve the KP Assembly without asking the others to do so.

When asked about the proposal of holding the elections on the basis of old census data, Mr Khan said he personally saw this suggestion feasible, but PML-N would make any such decision after holding an in-house consultation on the issue.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid had introduced the constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly on Nov 2 after an “agreement” among all the parties during a meeting of the parliamentary leaders of all the parties with Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

However, soon after the introduction of the bill, PPP’s parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar declared the move “unconstitutional”, alleging that the government had played a trick with them by telling them that the bill was being moved in the light of the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) but it was not the case.

Similarly, parliamentary leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Dr Farooq Sattar also criticised the government’s move to introduce the bill without first taking any step to remove the concerns of Sindh.

Responding to the objections raised by the two opposition members, Law Minister Zahid Hamid had claimed that Mr Qamar had not raised the CCI issue in any of the two meetings of the parliamentary leaders and, therefore, raising objections at this stage was uncalled-for.

Earlier, the heads of all the parliamentary parties had agreed that no change would be made in the existing 272-seat strength of the National Assembly and that of the provincial assemblies and that fresh delimitation of constituencies would be made on the basis of the provisional results of the census held earlier this year.

The delimitation of national and provincial constituencies is mandatory after a fresh census and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had already called for carrying out the required legislation as early as possible to allow it to conduct the massive exercise of making fresh delimitation of constituencies and preparing new electoral rolls.

Although the number of seats in the National Assembly will remain unchanged at 272, fresh delimitation would affect Punjab as it stands to lose up to nine seats. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will get five new seats, Balochistan will get three and the Islamabad Capital Territory will receive one additional seat. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas will retain its 12 seats in the assembly.

Commenting on Mr Shah’s proposal, Law Minister Zahid Hamid had said that there could be some legal hitches in it as the ECP had perhaps stated that any such move could be challenged before the Supreme Court.

An ECP official had also raised objections to this new idea of holding elections on the basis of old census, saying that in such a scenario, Punjab would be over-represented as against its population by three per cent.

Meanwhile, the law minister told reporters that the NA speaker had arranged a meeting between the officials of the Statistics Division and the members of the PPP, the MQM and the PTI on Monday in an effort to address the concerns of these parties over the census issue.

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