The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Sunday called upon the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to strictly ensure each constituency was represented by roughly the same number of voters as a result of fresh delimitation exercise required by the publication of the results of the digital census.
In a statement, the monitoring body noted the delimitation process was being initiated after amendments to the Elections Act, 2017 that no longer required the ECP to “strictly adhere” to the existing district boundaries if it caused a variance in population of constituencies to surpass 10 percent. “Such measures are necessary to strengthen the fairness of the election process as required under Article 218(3) of the Constitution,” it said, adding an unequal size of constituencies also violated the spirit of the constitutionally guaranteed equality of citizens before the law under Article 25.
Under the amended law, read the statement, a requirement compelling the ECP to regard the existing boundaries of administrative units, among other principles, in delimiting electoral constituencies was neutralized. “It will also minimize the executive’s influence on the delimitation process, which previously may do so by creating or redefining the boundaries of an existing administrative unit,” it said.
Recalling that strict adherence to district boundaries during the previous delimitation in 2022 had yielded 82 National Assembly and 88 provincial assemblies’ constituencies having a population varying by more than 10 percent from the respective quotas, it said this had included 34 constituencies in Punjab, 22 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 23 in Sindh, and three in Balochistan. From provincial assemblies, it continued, there had been 30 in KP, 28 in Balochistan, 18 in Sindh, and 12 in Punjab that had recorded such variance. “The largest NA constituency, NA-39 Bannu, having a population of 1,210,183 was nearly three times bigger than the smallest constituency, NA-42 Tank, having a population of 427,044,” it said, adding in the Balochistan Assembly, the largest constituency of PB-3 Killa Saifullah (342,932) had around three times the population of PB-23 Awaran (121,821). Similarly, in KP, PK-108 Tank (427,044) had 2.5 times more population than the smallest PK-1 Upper Chitral (169,297), while in Punjab PP-83 Khushab-II (444,166) had 1.3 times more population than the smallest PP-93 Chiniot-I (324,878), and in Sindh PS-34 Naushehro Feroze-II (436,288) had 1.3 times more population than the smallest PS-80 Jamshoro-I (315,390).
Citing estimates, FAFEN said the population variance of National Assembly constituencies from their respective regional quotas might exceed 10 percent in case of constituencies of two thirds of KP districts, half of Sindh districts, a third of Punjab districts and all of Balochistan districts if district boundaries were to be respected as per previous practice. “FAFEN recommends that the Commission may consider amending its rules on the delimitation of constituencies to materialize the spirit of the newly added proviso to Section 20(3),” it said, recommending amending Rules 10(4) and 10(5) for limiting population variance to a maximum of 10 percent within a province instead of five percent within a district. “Additionally, in the interest of electoral transparency, ECP must also add a column in Form-7 to provide an updated population of final constituencies after the disposal of representations filed on the draft list of constituencies,” it added.
FAFEN suggested the ECP make it binding upon delimitation committees to provide a constituency-wise explanation of constituencies where variance exceeds 10 percent. It may also consider, it said, inserting in its Rules a clear definition of the factors to be considered for delimitation to minimize the discretionary space available to delimitation committees.
“FAFEN also recommends amending Rules 12 and 13 concerning the making of, hearing, and disposal of the representations in order to facilitate the voters who wish to make representations on the delimitation proposals,” it said, suggesting pre-hearing scrutiny of representations could identify ones that have valid grounds for proposed changes. “The screened representations can thus proceed further through physical hearings,” it said, recommending these hearings be held in the provinces rather than in Islamabad to facilitate voters.
The monitoring body stressed that substantial improvements in the delimitation process were critical to improving the electoral process and preventing imbalance of population across electoral precincts and ensuring the representativeness of all geographical, linguist, ethnic, and religious diversity in the elected bodies. “Delimitation is one of the most critical mechanisms of allocation of political power to people by the state, and therefore, must be just, fair, and transparent,” it added.