General elections in Pakistan, due to take place later this year, will be held using a new census, possibly delaying the elections several months.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told Geo News TV on Saturday it could take about four months to complete the process of a census and draw new constituency boundaries.
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He said the decision was made at a meeting of Council of Common Interest (CCI), which included representatives from federal and provincial governments. “It was a consensus decision to hold elections under the new census,” the minister said.
The headcount of the seventh census has been completed, and a statement from the prime minister’s office said had risen to 241.49 million. But elections will require new delimitations of the constituencies based on the new census figures, which Nazeer Tarar said would take about four extra months.
Muhammad Sarwar Gondal, spokesperson and member of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), the department responsible for the census, said Pakistan’s constitution states that once the latest census count is completed, the polls body is bound to conduct new delimitations.
“If, and when the government issues official notification of the latest census results, it is binding upon Election Commission of Pakistan to conduct new delimitations, according to which polls will then take place,” he told Al Jazeera.
Gondal said PBS’s role in the election is limited to facilitating the Election Commission by providing data and mapping.
“Constitution is very clear that once census result is approved, new delimitation has to take place, similar to what happened during the last census in 2017, according to which 2018 polls were held. As per ECP laws, they require at least four months to implement new delimitations,” Gondal added.
‘New crisis brewing’
Raza Rumi, a political analyst, said the decision by the Council of Common Interest to endorse the results of the latest census may cause a pushback.
“With the result of census endorsed by the premier constitutional body, it is now binding to carve out new constituencies and this delimitation process takes at least 120 days,” Rumi told Al Jazeera.
He said the Pakistani constitution mandates elections can take place no more than 90 days after the dissolution of assemblies.
“Today’s decision by the CCI is going to be a new Pandora’s box, both legally and constitutionally,” he added.
Rumi, who is also the director for Park Centre of Independent Media at Ithaca College in New York, said it is quite likely the matter will be sent to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
“This certainly leaves a question of timing of elections and, therefore, a new crisis might be brewing in the country. But it does appear that perhaps the establishment and the parties in power do not want elections on time,” he said.
Pakistan’s main opposition figure, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was arrested on Saturday and sentenced to three years in jail, accused of selling state assets. He has denied the charges.
Abid Hussain contributed to this report from Islamabad