In a noteworthy development, the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), a vigilant monitoring group, has voiced concerns regarding the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) recently released preliminary delimitation list. According to Fafen, over one-fifth of the constituencies in the list exhibit a population variation exceeding the prescribed 10 percent limit. The ECP unveiled this list as part of its efforts to realign electoral districts across Pakistan, making adjustments based on the 2023 digital census data. This move aims to rationalize constituency populations and redistribute the number of seats in both national and provincial assemblies, setting the stage for the upcoming general elections, expected to be held early next year.
The process of delimitation follows recent amendments to the Elections Act of 2017, notably the addition of a new proviso to Section 20(3). This amendment no longer mandates the ECP to “strictly adhere” to existing district boundaries if doing so results in a population variance among assembly constituencies exceeding 10 percent. The primary objective behind this change is to ensure fairer elections, balancing representation across constituencies.
Fafen has drawn attention to the methodology used to calculate population variance. It involves comparing a constituency’s population with the average population per assembly seat or quota per seat. The quota is determined by dividing a province’s population, as determined by the most recent officially published census, by the number of seats allocated to that province in the national or provincial assemblies, as outlined in the Constitution.
Fafen’s concerns stem from the fact that a substantial number of constituencies—180 to be precise—across both national and provincial assemblies do not adhere to the legally mandated 10 percent population variation limit. This, according to Fafen, compromises the “principle of equal suffrage” that was emphasized through recent amendments to the Elections Act.
As per Fafen’s analysis, the population quotas for National Assembly (NA) constituencies in different provinces are as follows: 907,913 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 787,954 for the Islamabad Capital Territory, 905,595 for Punjab, 913,052 for Sindh, and 930,900 for Balochistan. Similarly, provincial assembly (PA) seat quotas are as follows: 355,270 for KP, 429,929 for Punjab, 428,432 for Sindh, and 292,047 for Balochistan.
It is noteworthy that the ECP has applied the Election Act amendment in the delimitation of only 11 NA constituencies, comprising six in KP, three in Punjab, and two in Sindh, along with one Punjab Assembly constituency. Consequently, the number of constituencies exceeding the 10 percent population variation threshold has risen from 170 (82 NA and 88 PA) in the 2022 delimitation to 180 (83 NA and 97 PA) in the 2023 draft lists.
This means that more than one-fifth of the total constituencies marked for delimitation do not comply with Section 20(3) of the Elections Act, 2017. These constituencies with excessive population variation include 35 in Punjab, 22 in Sindh, 21 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and five in Balochistan for NA, and 30 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 26 in Punjab, 25 in Balochistan, and 16 in Sindh for PA.
Fafen attributes this ongoing issue of population inequality among constituencies to the ECP’s failure to update the Election Rules in line with Section 20(3) of the Elections Act. This has resulted in striking disparities, where some constituencies are nearly three times more populous than others.
Such population inequalities within constituencies have the potential to dilute the voices of certain voters. To address this, Fafen has urged the ECP to streamline the process of filing representations on the draft constituencies, making it more accessible for voters. They suggest allowing submissions at district, regional, and provincial ECP offices to minimize the additional costs and efforts currently incurred by voters who must travel to Islamabad for this purpose.
Additionally, Fafen calls on the ECP to prompt the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to swiftly publish census block-wise population data on its website. This data is crucial for voters filing representations and aligns with Rule 12(2) requirements.
The ECP has extended the publication period for the preliminary constituencies from September 27 to October 26, allowing voters to raise objections during this time. Representations should be addressed to the commission’s secretary and submitted to the ECP Secretariat in Islamabad by October 27. The ECP will then consider these representations from October 28 to November 26, taking into account the positions of the respective parties.
In a bid to maintain transparency and fairness in the delimitation process, the ECP has outlined specific procedures for submitting representations, emphasizing the need for voter signatures and eight copies of the representation along with constituency maps.
The expedited delimitation process brings the ECP closer to its goal of holding elections by the last week of January, though a specific date is yet to be announced.
Fafen’s concerns regarding population disparities in the ECP’s preliminary delimitation list underscore the importance of equitable representation in Pakistan’s democratic process. As the nation prepares for upcoming general elections, it is imperative that the ECP addresses these concerns and strives to ensure that every voter’s voice is heard and represented effectively.