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FAFEN expresses concerns over proposed delimitations

The Free and Fair Election Network has cited population discrepancies in constituencies in its latest report.



FAFEN expresses concerns over proposed delimitations
GNN Media: Representational Photo

Islamabad: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Saturday raised apprehensions regarding the draft delimitation proposed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), highlighting that over one-fifth of constituencies exhibit a population variation exceeding 10 percent.

 The watchdog organization noted that, as per the ECP's proposal, as many as 180 constituencies for national and provincial assemblies do not align with the legal requirement of maintaining a 10 percent population variation.

FAFEN expressed concern that this move "undermines the principle of equal suffrage that was otherwise upheld by the Parliament through latest amendments in the Elections Act, 2017."

In light of amendments enacted on August 4, 2023, with parliamentary approval, the Election Commission was expected to disregard district boundaries to ensure that the population variation among an assembly's constituencies does not typically exceed 10 percent, as observed by FAFEN.

The organization explained that this variation can be determined by comparing the population of a constituency with the average population per assembly seat, often referred to as the quota per seat. Quotas are calculated by dividing the population of a province, as determined by the last officially published census, by the number of seats allocated to that province in national or provincial assemblies, as defined in the Constitution.

FAFEN's statement highlighted that an analysis of the preliminary delimitation report for 2023 and draft constituency lists indicates that the parliamentary emphasis on minimizing population variation was not extensively applied to ensure vote equality in assembly constituencies.

FAFEN further revealed that the newly added provision in the law was only employed in delimiting 11 National Assembly constituencies (six in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three in Punjab, and two in Sindh) and one Punjab Assembly constituency. Consequently, the number of constituencies with over 10 percent population variation increased from 170 (82 National Assembly and 88 Provincial Assembly) in the 2022 delimitation to 180 (83 National Assembly and 97 Provincial Assembly) in the 2023 draft constituency lists.

This means that more than one-fifth of the total demarcated constituencies do not comply with Section 20 (3) of the Elections Act, 2017, as per FAFEN.

The proposed National Assembly constituencies with more than 10 percent population variation include 35 in Punjab, 22 in Sindh, 21 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and five in Balochistan. Similarly, Provincial Assembly constituencies include 30 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 26 in Punjab, 25 in Balochistan, and 16 in Sindh.

FAFEN emphasized that the issue of population inequality among assembly constituencies persists due to the Election Commission's failure to update Rules 10 (4) and 10 (5) of the Election Rules 2017 to reflect the spirit of Section 20(3) as amended recently, which reads, "it shall not be necessary to strictly adhere to the existing district boundaries in exceptional cases."

These population inequalities among constituencies could potentially result in unequal voter representation, FAFEN warned. The organization called on the ECP to instruct the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) to promptly publish census block-wise population data on its website, as voters would require this data for filing representations, as per Rule 12(2).