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PDM govt mulling ‘redistribution’ of NA seats sans constitutional amendment
- Noor Aftab
- Aug 04, 2023
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government is giving careful consideration to a proposal involving the ‘redistribution’ of seats in the lower house of parliament without resorting to a constitutional amendment, which would become absolutely necessary if the Council of Common Interests (CCI) gives its approval to the recently concluded digital census.
Insiders indicate that the government has been informed by its legal team that should the digital census results be approved in the forthcoming CCI meeting tomorrow, a consequential delimitation of constituencies would require a constitutional amendment – an unlikely eventuality given the numbers in the National Assembly (NA).
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has signed the requisition of a CCI meeting to approve Pakistan’s first-ever digital census. The results of this census have been submitted to the CCI for approval by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).
Sources claim the approval of the digital census results could thrust electoral politics into a problematic situation making new constituency delimitations under the new data inevitable.
The process will require endorsement through a constitutional amendment and with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf no more in the assembly, it will be impossible to gather two-thirds of the total NA votes required to pass the amendment.
Should it fail to materialise, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will be in a tight spot, with a high probability of further political uncertainty.
On the other hand, if the digital census results are approved but elections are held under the previous census, an appeal in the Supreme Court to declare the elections null and void, according to sources closely watching the developments.
With so many technicalities at play, certain senior cabinet members suggest the possibility of the federal government deciding to hold elections based on the older census. However, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), a major coalition partner of the PDM government, has persistently demanded the delimitation of constituencies, citing significant population growth in Karachi in recent years.
Given the MQM-P’s concerns, sources reveal that the federal government is now contemplating the ‘redistribution’ of seats. However, the total number of seats, currently 342, in the upper house cannot be changed through this process.
Legal experts like retired justice Wajihuddin Ahmad also questioned the legitimacy of the caretaker governments of Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa to represent their respective provinces at the CCI meeting. If the digital census results are ratified, Punjab stands to lose eight national assembly seats, with Balochistan and rural Sindh gaining more.
Meanwhile, an ECP official told Hum News on condition of anonymity that a governmental decision for seat redistribution would result in a decrease in national assembly representation for any province experiencing a population decline, while provinces with increased populations would be allocated additional seats.
“Coalition partners are resistant to hold elections, foreseeing significant defeat nationwide,” according to PTI spokesperson, Raoof Hasan who further told Hum News that “any attempt to delay elections using the digital census as a pretext would be met with strong opposition and legal action.”
On August 1, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif confirmed that elections would proceed based on the results of this year’s digital census however senior leaders from his own party including Minister for Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal outrightly accepted the impossibility of holding fresh polls based on the new digital census within 90 days.
This sentiment was also echoed by Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, who agreed that such a decision will result in a delay in elections.
ECP officials Haroon Shinwari, Qurrat-ul-Ain, and Nadeem Qasim declined to comment on the digital census and general elections when contacted by Hum News.