Delimitation in Karachi
THE question of fresh delimitation of constituencies in Karachi ahead of the general election requires careful reconsideration by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
In its judgment in the suo motu case on the law and order situation in Karachi in October 2011, the Supreme Court, in paragraph 131 of the 132-para judgment, has also mentioned delimitation of constituencies as one of the solutions:
“…[T]o avoid political polarisation and to break the cycle of ethnic strife and turf war, boundaries of administrative units like police stations, revenue estates, etc., ought to be altered so that the members of different communities may live together in peace and harmony, instead of allowing various groups to claim that particular areas belong to them and declaring certain areas as no-go areas under their fearful influence. Subsequently thereto, on similar considerations, in view of relevant laws, delimitation of different constituencies has also to be undertaken with the same object and purpose, particularly to make Karachi … a peaceful city … The Election Commission of Pakistan may also initiate the process on its own in this behalf….”
Two things require consideration of the ECP; that the judgment refers to “in view of relevant laws” when stating that “delimitation of different constituencies has also to be undertaken….” and, that no particular time frame for the delimitation has been given in the judgment. This part of the judgment could, therefore, be interpreted to mean that whenever the new population census results are officially available, the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974, will be applied to delimit constituencies in light of the Supreme Court judgment.
Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974 demands that a new exercise of delimitation is carried out either when the report of the new population census becomes available or if and when the number of seats allocated to each province is changed.
The latest delimitation was carried out before the 2002 general election as the 1998 population census results had become available. In addition, Musharraf’s government had increased the total number of seats of national and provincial assemblies. Section 9 of Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974 sets out the principles of delimitation: “9. (1) All constituencies for general seats shall, as far as practicable, be delimited having regard to the distribution of population in geographically compact areas, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and public convenience and other cognate factors to ensure homogeneity in the creation of constituencies….” Section 2 defines ‘population’ as “the population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published”.
Although Section 10-A of the Constituencies Act, 1974 empowers the ECP to make amendments, alterations or modifications in the final list of constituencies “as it thinks necessary” would it be in line with the principles of natural justice to make arbitrary modifications to delimitation of constituencies without the new census? It is also worth mentioning that Section 10-A was inserted in 1984 through an ordinance under the martial law government.
After 1998, the next population census, due in 2008, has still not taken place and it is not possible to undertake one and publish its final report before the next general election, due latest by middle of June 2013. The number of seats for the assemblies has also not changed. Apparently, therefore, there is no sound basis to alter the physical limits of national and provincial constituencies at this stage. If the ECP felt the intent of the judgment indicated an imminent time frame, the only option for the commission was to seek a clarification from the honourable court.
If the ECP agrees to review the delimitation of constituencies in Karachi at this stage, there could be similar demands from many other parts of the country as it is unreasonable to expect that the delimitation exercise in the rest of the country was perfect and that only Karachi constituencies were wrongly drawn.
According to the ECP report of the breakdown of the number of complaints against delimitation in 2002, on average 1.49 complaints were filed per constituency in Balochistan (total complaints: 97 for 14 NA and 51 PA constituencies) compared to the average 1.25 complaints per constituency in Sindh (238 for 61 NA and 130 PA constituencies). Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then NWFP) had on average 1.23 complaints per constituency (165 for 35 NA and 99 PA constituencies) which is almost the same as in Sindh. These statistics roughly indicate that there was nothing extraordinary in the number of objections raised against delimitation in Sindh.
Pakhtuns living in Balochistan have long contended that their number was not accurately recorded in the 1998 census as they had boycotted it. Karachi can also demand a greater number of seats on the basis of a disproportionately high rate of increase in its population due to migration from upcountry since 1998. The revision of delimitation of constituencies at this stage when general election is a maximum six months away can also unleash complications that may hamper the prospects of polls on time.
Ahead of the 2008 election, the ECP had declined all requests for fresh delimitation “on the grounds of census-related embargo on fresh delimitation of constituencies/reallocation of seats contained in Article 51(3) the constitution as well as section 7(2) of the Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974”.
This is the exact position which the ECP needs to respectfully but effectively communicate to the Supreme Court at present. At this stage of the electoral calendar, there are pressing issues before the ECP that must be expeditiously resolved to ensure free and fair elections.
Making electoral rolls free from errors and inaccuracies and ensuring that citizens express their will without any coercion and hindrance are key responsibilities of the ECP. A number of complaints have been received by the ECP from individual voters and political parties that the door-to-door verification process of the ECP in 2011 was ineffective with the result that a large number of voters, who are residing in Karachi for many years, have been listed as voters at their permanent addresses outside Sindh without their consent.
The ECP has a responsibility to reach all those voters who have not been reached earlier to seek their preference for place of voting. The SC judgment of Dec 5, 2012, in the electoral rolls case has also directed the ECP “to carry out proper and complete door-to-door verification in Karachi so as to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised or dislocated and all other discrepancies are rectified as early as possible”. This is a huge responsibility that the ECP failed to discharge once; failure to do so again is not an option.
The ECP should also ensure that only bona fide voters cast their votes after fool-proof identification. Use of thumb impressions and/or cameras in polling stations to register a voter’s identity are some options that the ECP must seriously consider. There are also apprehensions that certain militant groups may coerce voters to cast votes for certain parties or candidates. The use of armed forces to safeguard polling stations is also proposed by some political parties and merits serious consideration.
These are the critical issues that deserve much more focused attention of the ECP instead of fresh delimitation of constituencies before the new population census.
The writer is president, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency (Pildat).