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EDITORIAL: It will be touch and go for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) as far as the matter of completing delimitation of constituencies in time is concerned. The seventh population and housing census schedule says that the exercise shall begin on Aug 1 this year.

That means the results would be handed over to ECP by Dec 31. But the final results will not be published before February next year. And since Article 51(5) allows only the use of final published data for the purpose of delimitation of constituencies, ECP’s timeline is stretching a little thin.

It turns out that not only will the commission need another four months to complete delimitation, there would also be other electoral exercises, like revision of electoral rolls and preparation of an action plan, that would require even more time.

The law also requires the plan to be prepared four months before the general elections; which in this case would mean around April 2023. Clearly, there’s a very uncomfortable, and unavoidable overlap. It also misses the deadlines laid down by the constitution.

That’s why ECP’s earlier requests to the parliamentary affairs committee in Sep 2021 and Jan 2022, asking for the final report to be out by end-Dec, made a lot of sense. Clearly, this will need a lot of very important people to put their heads together because if they don’t, and elections have to be delayed, then there will be even more needless controversy.

Yet, on the political level, ECP’s limitations pretty much rule out any chance of a snap election. But since that’s precisely what the main political clash of these times is about, and it’s even spilling out onto the streets, the commission should prepare for yet more heat down the road.

The last-minute rush should not let anybody forget how important this census is. Perhaps the biggest achievement is that it is completely free of controversy. The way the last one caused a political deadlock and wasted a lot of time and resources turned out to be a lesson well learnt, at least.

That’s why it’s extremely important for the commission to make sure that it doesn’t become disputed in any way, for which it will have to be very thorough. But then time is also of the essence.

It would’ve helped if ECP, especially the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), weren’t making headlines for very different reasons right now. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has decided to combine its frustration with the foreign funds case and ECP’s inability to hold early elections to come down very hard on it – holding protests up and down the country, insulting the CEC and calling for his resignation.

The honourable CEC must not lose sight of the fact these are extraordinary times, requiring some subtlety of thought. However, that the present political situation is extremely profound is a fact. It is not in an established manner, course, or order, to say the least. In other words, the current political strife is exceptional in character. It has to be brought to an end without any further loss of time.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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