Constitutional crisis over census can delay general elections

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The implications of the constitutional crisis may cause the general elections to be delayed since the federal administration has not yet published a gazette notification of the latest census, even though the report based on its results was ready.

Before the term of the present coalition government come to an end, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) is anticipated to hold its important meeting and make a crucial decision about the census.

The CCI will go through the latest census’s findings and its report. The revised census findings will be debated by the provincial governments, and the CCI meeting is expected to adopt the new census report.

A constitutional crisis might arise if the federal government approves the latest census report and issues a notification in this regard.

The constitution must be changed in order to modify the number of seats in the legislatures, and the government no longer has a two-third majority in order to alter Article 51 (3) of the constitution.

Therefore, the CCI report and decision will come first, and only then will it be determined whether or not to publish a gazette notification based on the findings of the new census.

On August 5, 2022, the old constituencies were officially accepted, and the ECP published a gazette notification. Elections will be held before October 11 if the National Assembly and the two provincial assemblies are dissolved on August 12 and the results of the new census are officially gazetted, which will give the Election Commission the authority to conduct new constituencies under Article 51 (5) of the Constitution.

Otherwise, elections shall be called within 90 days in accordance with Articles 224 and 224 (A) of the Constitution if the National Assembly and the two provincial legislatures are prematurely dissolved.

The constitutional term of two of the four provincial assemblies, including the National Assembly, is going to end on August 12, 2023, in which case according to Article 224 (1) of the Constitution, by October 12 and if two provincial assemblies, including the National Assembly, are dissolved prematurely, then general elections must be held in 90 days.

But in view of the extraordinary increase in population in Balochistan, if the seats of the National Assembly of Balochistan province have to be increased, then Article 51 (3) of the Constitution will have to be amended, while the current government is deprived of a two-thirds majority.

If three seats are not allocated in proportion to the population of Balochistan province, then this process should be considered against the delimitation and constitution and it can be challenged in any higher court, especially in the Balochistan High Court and The Islamabad High Court.

Due to the country’s approximately 130 districts, 277 returning officers from Punjab, 130 from Sindh, 115 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 51 from Balochistan would need to be engaged for the provincial assembly. This means that 130 or more district returning officers will be hired in this ratio.

The democratic system’s most essential necessity is that elections be held on time, fairly, and transparently; questions have existed for a while, but they have only really surfaced in the last 20 years.