Pakistan’s 2023 Digital Census: Implications and Delay in General Elections

Pakistan's 2023 Digital Census: Implications and Delay in General Elections

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) in Pakistan recently approved the results of the 2023 digital census, marking a significant milestone as it was the country’s first-ever digital census. The census, conducted using tablets and allowing citizens to participate in self-enumeration, provided detailed population figures crucial for the fair allocation of funds, resources, and aid across provinces, districts, and regions. However, the approval of the census results has also raised concerns as it signifies a likely delay of three to four months in the upcoming general elections, scheduled to take place later this year.

The CCI, chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, unanimously approved the census results, stating that Pakistan’s population has surged to 241.49 million with an annual growth rate of 2.55%. This population count will be the basis for the upcoming general elections. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) expressed its inability to hold polls within the stipulated time as it would require conducting a fresh delimitation of constituencies based on the new population count.

Using Article 51 of the Constitution, which requires allocating National Assembly (NA) seats to administrative units based on the most recent publicly published census, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif defended the choice to postpone elections. Additionally, the provinces’ concerns with the 2017 census were a factor in the 2021 CCI’s decision to base the upcoming polls on the 2023 census.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM) have disapproved of the new census results. The PPP senators described the decision to hold elections based on the revised census in the upper house of Parliament as a delay strategy.

Azam Nazeer Tarar, the minister of law, predicts a 2- to 2.5-month postponement in the elections. He highlighted that to minimise the delay; the ECP must quickly start and finish the delimitation procedure. He thinks that the 120-day maximum period will allow for a practical delimitation, guaranteeing a sufficient amount of time for the electoral process.

The census findings showed that Punjab, with over 120 million residents, has the biggest population, followed by Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan. The census sets an economic framework for the entire nation and offers vital information for estimating the sizes of financial groups. Additionally, it makes it easier for governments to define their constituencies and distribute resources and aid fairly.

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The approval of Pakistan’s 2023 digital census marks a significant milestone in the country’s move towards digitisation. However, among political allies and citizens, there have been discussions and worries about the delay in holding general elections due to the census results. The Election Commission of Pakistan must undertake the delimitation well to minimise the impact on the election schedule, even though the administration argues the delay is vital for a fair electoral process. The reliability and openness of the census data would be essential in determining Pakistan’s future policies and efforts to build its economy.

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