Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said the next general election will be held on the basis of the new digital census, a move that is likely to be opposed by other political parties in the coalition government as it will lead to delayed polls.
In an interview Tuesday, the Prime Minister said elections will be held according to the digital census conducted earlier this year, the Dawn newspaper reported Wednesday.
Pakistan’s first-ever nationwide population and housing digital census was carried out in March this year.
“We have to hold the elections on the basis of the new census… When a census has been conducted, the [polls] should be held on its basis unless there is an obstacle that cannot be overcome. But I don’t see [any such hurdle],” Sharif was quoted as saying.
Parties like Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) have been demanding elections on its basis, but others like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are opposing the move as it might delay the polls.
Pakistan’s current National Assembly will complete its five-year term August 12 and the fresh general election must be conducted within 60 days as laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan.
But if the National Assembly is dissolved prematurely, even if by a day, it would give the government 90 days to conduct elections.
The caretaker prime minister will administer the country until a new government is formed after the general elections.
The prime minister, meanwhile, seems to be walking a tightrope to keep his allies content.
As soon as the results are consolidated, they will be presented before a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), which is a legal requirement, the prime minister said while referring to the body that includes all four provincial chief ministers as members.
When asked about whether holding elections on the new census, the results of which have yet to be compiled, will delay elections or not, Prime Minister Sharif said that holding elections on time was the job of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The ECP has already expressed its inability to hold general polls on the basis of the latest census results.
After the results are approved by the government, the ECP would have to carry out a fresh delimitation of constituencies, based on the updated population count, the report said.
In June, a senior ECP official told the Dawn newspaper that as per the Constitution, seats in the National Assembly are allocated to each province and federal territory based on the population according to the last published census.
Therefore, a constitutional amendment would be required if the number of seats was altered following the publication of census results, which was technically impossible after the acceptance of the resignations of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, he said.
Monday, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar also said polls will be delayed by at least 90 days if held under the fresh census.
Sources in the PPP said that the Prime Minister’s remarks have worried party leaders, who have been vocal in their demands for timely elections this year, the report said.
They said that the party would definitely take up the issue with the prime minister soon.
Earlier, Minister of State for Poverty Alleviation Faisal Karim Kundi — who is also PPP’s central information secretary — said his party would never accept elections under the new census as Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had already written a letter to the Prime Minister expressing reservations on the count.
“Our reservations have so far not been addressed,” he added.
“Elections will be delayed if the issue of holding polls under new census is raised at this stage,” Kundi said.
Earlier, in a press conference, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb said the assemblies would be dissolved before their term expires leaving little doubt that a caretaker set-up will be in place for at least 90 days.
She said the reins of the government will be handed over to a caretaker setup which will be announced after consultation with the coalition partners.