EDITORIAL: In an important development Pakistan is all set to digitalise population and housing census. The National Database and Registration Authority on Sunday handed over the last batch of 126,000 Android tablet computers to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) for distribution to enumerators in 169 districts across the country.

The new system is to be synchronised with GPS and geographical Centre Services and technical support centres at each tehsil level and data displayed on an online web portal.

An obvious benefit of the use of modern technology is transparency in proper documentation of the population, on which are based three vital policy decisions: resource distribution by the National Finance Commission; the number of seats in the national and provincial assemblies; and provision of social services within the provinces. Digitalisation should also resolve the nagging problem caused in many cases by registration of people both on the permanent and present addresses.

The national census is held every 10 years while the population grows at an annual rate of 1.9 percent, more than two times of the global annual rate of .8 percent (2022 figures). Before long that can lead to demands for bigger representation in the legislative assemblies, and upset the present scheme of things.

However, we can learn from the experience of India, where the number of seats in the assemblies has been frozen at the 1981 level. A more immediate issue pertains to the upcoming general elections.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has linked fresh delimitation of constituencies to the official notification of the digital census results. Chief Statistician of PBS has been quoted as saying the computerisation exercise would be completed in the first week of March followed by data validation, which may take two to three weeks. After that, the data is to be placed before the Council of Common Interest (CCI) for approval where decisions are made on the basis of majority opinion.

The ruling PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) coalition is insistent on holding general elections on time, i.e., in October, while PTI Chairman Imran Khan has been agitating for snap polls.

Imran Khan is threatening to upend the PDM’s plan by dissolving the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies to force general elections. But his coalition partner Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), despite repeated assurances that he would not hesitate for “even half a minute” to dissolve the assembly is disinclined to do that.

In the event he is not bound by the Lahore High Court at the January 11 hearing to take the vote of confidence the Governor has asked him to take, signs are that he will seek the readily available support from the PML-N and PPP to stay in office, leaving Khan high and dry. But what next, is a question that will continue to prolong political uncertainty and cast its dark shadow over the national politics and economy.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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