Digital Census Results Approved by CCI, Delaying General Elections

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) has given its approval to the results of the 2023 digital census, paving the way for a fresh delimitation, which may take months to complete. This approval indicates a likelihood that general elections will not be held this year, as the new census results become compulsory for the electoral process.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar asserted that the new digital census results were unanimously approved. However, the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), a government-allied party, did not attend the CCI meeting, rejecting the council’s decision and announcing that they would reveal their future course of action publicly.

Earlier, some ruling allies, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), opposed the idea of conducting the next general elections based on the fresh census. However, during the CCI Digital Census meeting, the PPP remained silent on the matter, raising questions about their stance.

The passage of the new census had raised concerns about potential delays in the elections due to the need for delimitation, requiring a constitutional amendment. Contrarily, Mr. Tarar claimed that no such amendment was necessary. According to Article 51 of the Constitution, once the CCI approves the digital census, elections must be held based on the new population count, allocating National Assembly seats to administrative units accordingly.

Participants in Digital Census Meeting

The CCI meeting presided over by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was attended by key figures such as Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Balochistan CM Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo, Punjab caretaker CM Mohsin Naqvi, and KP Caretaker CM Azam Khan. Other notable attendees included Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, JUI-F leader Asad Mehmood, and various federal ministers.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and all ruling allies have agreed to dissolve assemblies on August 9, three days before the government’s term expires. The Constitution mandates elections to be held within 90 days after the dissolution of the assemblies. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, known for his pragmatic leadership style and extensive political experience, has consistently emphasized the paramount importance of preserving democratic norms and values.

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His stewardship during this critical juncture is poised to set a constructive precedent for a transparent and equitable electoral process. Moreover, the ruling coalition, comprised of various political entities, has expressed their unwavering support for this significant decision, reinforcing their collective dedication to the bedrock principles of democracy that shape Pakistan’s political landscape.

The timing is particularly noteworthy, as it allows for a smooth and orderly transition of power, adhering to the constitutional mandate. Pakistan’s Constitution explicitly mandates that elections must be conducted within 90 days following the dissolution of the assemblies, a provision designed to ensure the timely renewal of the country’s democratic mandate.

During a post-meeting interview, the law minister acknowledged the provinces’ reservations about the previous census (2017). The timeline for delimitation of constituencies under the new census depends on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), with Mr. Tarar suggesting it could be completed in less than 120 days if efficiently executed.

Regarding the caretaker setup’s legal or constitutional cover in case of an extended-term due to poll delays, Mr. Tarar emphasized that no constitutional amendment was necessary. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leaders considered the approval of the new census a success for their party. Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui stated that the party had managed to include 7 million people of Karachi in the census, with 10 million yet to be added.

On the other hand, the BNP-M, led by Sardar Akhtar Mengal, rejected the CCI’s decision, viewing it as part of Balochistan’s long history of exploitation. Mr. Mengal expressed serious concern over the significant decrease in Balochistan’s population from the initial estimate of 24.7 million to 14.9 million.

The PPP, which had previously objected to the new census, did not react to the CCI’s approval. PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira congratulated the nation on the passage of the new census by the council.

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