Elections likely to be delayed as CCI 'unanimously' approves 2023 census

Ayaz Akbar Yousafzai

Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif chairs the 50th meeting of the Council of Common Interests. Islamabad, August 5, 2023. — PMO
Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif chairs the 50th meeting of the Council of Common Interests. Islamabad, August 5, 2023. — PMO
  • PM chairs CCI meeting to decide fate of 2023 census.
  • Meeting attended by CMs, senior members of federal cabinet.
  • ECP is bound to hold polls on basis of new data under law. 

ISLAMABAD: The upcoming general elections in the country will likely be delayed as the Council of Common Interest (CCI) meeting on Saturday “unanimously” approved the 2023 census.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting of the CCI to decide the fate of the 2023 census amid reports of division among the coalition partners over the matter.

The meeting was attended by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Commerce Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Adviser to the PM on Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Qamar Zaman Kaira and other officials also participated in the huddle.

According to a statement issued following the meeting, the census 2023 was approved with the consensus of all four chief ministers and representatives of all political parties.

During the meeting, PM Shehbaz appreciated the provincial governments and the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) for playing an important role in completing the census.

The Ministry of Planning briefed the participants on the digital census. Moreover, the results of 2023 census were also presented during the CCI meeting.

The current total population of Pakistan is 241.49 million as per the seventh census with an annual growth rate of 2.55%.

The population growth rate of Balochistan is 3.2% — higher than the rest of the provinces.

"The population has increased by 350 million in the last six years which is a matter of concern. Pakistan's population growth rate is more than its economic growth," the PM said.

PM Shehbaz added that the government will have to stop the population growth as well as overcome the challenges by increasing the pace of economic development.

The population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is 40.85 million, Punjab 127.68 million, Sindh 55.69 million, Balochistan 14.89 million and Islamabad’s population stands at 2.36 million, the meeting was briefed.

The CCI huddle unanimously approved the latest digital census despite the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), a key ally of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led government, had publicly expressed reservations over it.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) also reportedly informed the federal government that it had completed all the formalities.

The general elections are likely to be delayed by a couple of months as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would need additional time to conduct the delimitation exercise afresh.

Under the law, if a new census is notified, the ECP is bound to hold elections on the basis of new data.

It is important to note that the ruling coalition has agreed to dissolve the National Assembly prematurely on August 9 — three days before its term ends — giving the electoral body 90 days to conduct polls.

PPP, MQM-P divided

Meanwhile, the two main coalition partners of PM Shehbaz Sharif — Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and PPP had opposite views on the enumeration.

The PPP has on multiple occasions said that polls should be held on the basis of the 2017 census, reiterating that any delay in polls will not be accepted.

On Friday, while speaking on the floor of the Senate, Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman said that the census issue was controversial and would open up a new Pandora’s box of delimitation of constituencies.

“This issue could be used to delay the election. We don’t want elections to be delayed, rather it should be held on time and under the Constitution,” she maintained.

On the other hand, MQM-P has shared its concerns on the matter with the prime minister, stressing that elections on the previous enumeration would not be acceptable.

PML-N ‘ready’ to address concerns

Moreover, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Talal Chaudhry told Geo News that there’s no harm in delaying polls as it is more important that the election results are acceptable to everyone.

‘Polls may be delayed by 4 months’

Talking to Geo News on Friday, former secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad said that if the CCI approves the census 2023, elections will be held in 2024.

“If the gazette notification of the new digital census is issued on the recommendations of the CCI, then the ECP is legally bound under Article 51(5) of the Constitution to conduct fresh delimitation,” he said.