New Delimitations a Must before Next General Elections

ISLAMABAD, January 7, 2016: Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has called for new delimitations of the electoral constituencies before the next general elections as an absolute prerequisite to ensure the right of people to equal representation as well as distribution of political power among various geographical regions in proportion to their population, says FAFEN statement on Thursday.

The recommendation was made at the National Consultation on Delimitation held in Islamabad which gathered representatives of political parties, including Federal Minister for Safron Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, All Parties Muslim League legislator Iftikharuddin Shahzada, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Additional Secretary General Saifullah Khan Niazi, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party legislator Usman Ahmed Kakar, Balochistan National Party (Mengal) Senator Jahanzaib Jamaldini and Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal legislator Naeema Kishwar. Prominent election experts including former secretaries of Election Commission Hasan Muhammad Khan and Kanwar Dilshad, IFES Country Head Shabbir Ahmed, DRI Coordinator Hasan Nasir and UNDP’s Election Expert Skye Christensen were also present. Notable civil society representatives present on the occasion included Lok Sujag’s Tahir Mehdi, Executive Director for Center for Civic Education Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director for Legal Aid and Awareness Services Rukhshanda Naz, CPDI Program Manager Zahid Abdullah and NDI’s representative Salman Kakar.

Most of the participants were in favour of holding transparent census prior to the delimitation of electoral constituencies, agreeing that the existing constituencies are no more reflective of the population. There was also an agreement that the process of delimitation should be free of political interference and based on clearly laid out criteria. Participants also supported the proposal floated by federal minister for enhancing the representation of Balochistan in the National Assembly.

According to FAFEN, delimitation is the allocation of political power by the state among and within provinces and territories. The existing parameter for delimitation of representation is population. However, the existing National Assembly constituencies, besides being unevenly distributed in terms of registered voters, also show stark variations in terms of the number of citizens they represent in the Parliament.

While the current delimitation of National Assembly constituencies is highly skewed from the national average barometer, the situation is not much difference when variation in the average population per constituency within the region are examined. There are sharp variations even within the regions, indicating the need for fresh delimitation on an urgent basis. For instance, the National Assembly constituency encompassing Battagram in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa represents 428,868 people, while a population of nearly one million in Lower Dir is also represented by one member in the National Assembly. Similarly, each constituency in Hafizabad, Punjab represents, on average, 581,296 people, an average of 817,741 citizens in Lodhran are afforded the same level of representation.

The electoral rolls finalized by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the 2013 elections showed a highly uneven distribution of voters across districts, regions and constituencies. Classified by the number of registered votes, seven constituencies had less than 149,999 registered voters in the 2013 elections – compared to 13 in the previous elections.  The number of constituencies with 150,000 to 249,999 voters decreased from 47 to 25, while the number of constituencies having 250,000 to 349,999 voters went up from 149 to 161. There were 60 constituencies having 350,000 to 449,999 voters in 2008 and 70 in 2013. Similarly, the number of constituencies with 450,000 to 549,999 voters went up from two to nine between 2008 and 2013. However, the 2013 elections did not have any constituency having more than 550,000 voters, as compared to one constituency (NA-266) in 2008.

At a regional level, nearly 3.3 million voters in Balochistan have 14 seats in the National Assembly, while half as many voters in FATA have 12 seats. The ECP’s data also shows an inconsistent pattern in increase/decrease in registered voters since 2008, further necessitating the need to carry out fresh delineation of electoral boundaries. For instance, the number of voters in ICT and FATA saw a sharp increase (nearly 30%) in 2013, yet there was no change in the number of seats in both regions. Similarly, Balochistan witnessed a decrease of 23.5%, with no change in any electoral boundary.

Furthermore, the voters’ data shows that the number of constituencies having registered voters within the standard deviation (the amount of variation from the average number of voters) went up from 181 in 2008 to 211 in 2013. The distribution of voters, although less skewed compared to the previous elections, still shows 61 constituencies falling outside the confidence interval of 140,000 registered voters.

A district-wise analysis of electoral rolls showed that the difference in registered voters was considerably high even within the same region, resulting in an uneven distribution of political power. For instances, Swat District – having a total of 981,820 registered voters – has only two seats in the National Assembly (490,910 voters per constituency) while Shangla, located nearby, has one seat for 296,723 registered voters. Similarly, Haripur, having a total of 531,865 voters, has one seat while 675,189 voters belonging to Abbottabad were divided in two constituencies, giving an average of 337,595 voters in each constituency.

Lower Dir and Upper Dir presented a similar pattern, with the former having 504,091 registered voters and the latter having 368,035. Similarly, there were only four seats allocated for Gujrat District in Punjab, where the number of voters exceeds 1.5 million (395,350 voters per constituency). On the other hand, Hafizabad, which is located close to Gujrat, has only two seats for nearly 500,000 voters (271,837 voters per constituency).

Narowal and Sialkot present another interesting example, with the former having three seats for nearly 792,379 voters (264,126 voters per constituency) and the latter having five seats for more than 1.8 million voters (368,270 voters per constituency). On the other hand, Khanewal and Sahiwal, despite having a difference of one million voters, have been allocated four seats each, while Pakpattan, located in the same region, has been divided into three constituencies despite having significantly less number of voters.

FAFEN, on the occasion, recommended amendments to Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974, including specification that constituencies may vary in size according to parameters outlined within the constitution but the size of constituencies within and among districts, provinces and territories must not vary by 10% population. Moreover, law must be amended to require proactive public input in delimitation process for it to be transparent and inclusive.

The criteria for delimitation should be further defined to minimize subjective discretion and political interference. In addition, census blocks must be made the building blocks for constituencies. All national or provincial assembly constituencies must be within the administrative units. All provincial assembly constituencies should be within national assembly constituencies.