Delimitation: solution or further polarisation?

KARACHI, Dec 3: The recent orders by the Supreme Court of Pakistan calling for fresh electoral delimitations as a recipe to control crime and violence in Karachi appear to be based on widely-held perception that mafias and groups were controlling organised crime and large parts of the city. The ones espousing the above perception recommend de-polarisation of the city through removal of flash points and ethnic fault lines causing death and destruction.

The immediate questions that come to mind are: is fresh delimitation possible without a new census? And can such a move make any real difference in Karachi’s electoral politics?

Coupled with the court’s order on delimitation, petitions by PTI and some other political parties in Islamabad claiming that votes of a sizeable number of people; up to three million living in Karachi, have been illegally reverted to their native towns — have not helped either, resulting in a further directive by the CJP for door-to-door verification of the voters in the city.

The subsequent political storm caused by the above judgments points at the failure of the experts in the Election Commission of Pakistan in explaining to the courts realities on ground.

To understand the intricacies of the ongoing debate one needs to carefully examine the provisions of the ‘Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974’, and the substitutions through ‘The Delimitation of Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2011’.

The above ‘Act’ clearly states that the constituencies for elections to the national and provincial assemblies are to be delimited after every ‘census’. Consequent to the ‘1998 nationwide census’ fresh constituencies for national and provincial assemblies were delimited for 2002.

The number of NA constituencies rose from 207 to 272 and provincial assemblies from 460 to 577 in the country. The 272 NA constituencies were split amongst the four provinces according to the provisions spelled out in the above Act and the substitution of Section 8, Act XXXIV of 1974. Resultantly, 14 general seats were earmarked for Balochistan, 35 for NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), 115 for Punjab and 61 for Sindh.

According to principles of delimitation outlined in 6th Substitution of The Delimitation of Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2011: “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. As far as may be the constituencies for election to the same, Assembly shall be equal among themselves in population.”

The above principles appear to emphasise homogeneity and contiguity as cardinal rules for fresh delimitation. Since 2002 the number of districts in Pakistan has risen from 104 to 119. The largest increase in number of districts has taken place in Sindh from 17 to 27.

The district of Karachi that was administratively a single unit in 2002 stands split into five districts at present. Since reconstitution of districts, seven constituencies appear to overlap current district boundaries in Karachi which could be used as an excuse for fresh delimitation.

However, ‘homogeneity and contiguity’ obviously do not restrict themselves to geography alone, otherwise there would not have been a need for insertion of “facilities of communication and public convenience and other cognate factors” amongst the principles.

If the SC decision was to be implemented in line with the ‘Act’ the only formula close to the provisions of the ‘Act’ would require to take the 1998 populations for the five new districts of Karachi and to divide the 20 National Assembly constituencies proportionately; according to the districts’ populations.

The above formula will accord the districts West, Central and South four NA seats each, District East six NA seats and Malir two NA seats. The task would then be to come up with constituencies equal in population — at least within the subject districts.

Simple arithmetic using 1998 populations as base for these calculations would yield, average constituency in District Central 33 per cent, more populated than District South and 25pc more populated than District East — District Central losing one seat as compared to 2002 and 2008. Such re-demarcation of electoral constituencies are being already seen an attempt to affect the future election results causing further polarisation in the city.

Political analysts are convinced that democracy does not necessarily mean dictatorship of the majority; rather it is considered an instrument to help promote civility and consensus among the people.

While the indigenous people of Karachi living happily before 1947 in the city have been increasingly marginalised, multiple tensions thrive in the city on political, sectarian and ethnic lines. If the rural populations are somehow adjunct with the urban vote there would be a grave danger of complete marginalisation of Sindhi ethnic vote!

A fresh nationwide census became due in 2008. During 2011, fresh census exercise started with ‘House Listing Operation’ (HLO); completed at a cost of more than Rs3 billion, was however declared faulty and therefore void.

The new census block-codes mapped for HLO have been used and gazetted for the fresh electoral rolls. Such data based on mappings already declared void may only result in logistical and legal fiasco for the upcoming elections which is something the ECP also needs to consider!

Another legal crisis would be generated if three million votes were transferred to Karachi and someone moves ‘court’ demanding reduction of corresponding number of seats from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab as well as increase of that many seats in Karachi. It might become difficult for the courts not to take up the issue.

The common man in Karachi affected by the proposed fresh delimitations would be in his right to question the legal or moral basis of a Karachi-specific decision causing harm to his or her political interest. Another legitimate question would be regarding lack of emphasis of all state institutions over fresh census due for last four years.


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usman hashmi

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