A number of recent verdicts handed down by the Supreme Court reflect its concern about holding free, fair, transparent all-inclusive general elections.
The verdicts range from the preparation of fresh voter lists to refreshing guidelines on electioneering to provide all eligible voters the right to franchise and all political parties and candidates an equal opportunity to contest.
All of this has happened because political parties asked the court to set the record straight before the polls. But the orders on fresh delimitation had different reasons altogether. They pertained to the frightful chain of events in Karachi.
In October 2011, the SC held proceedings in the Karachi law and order case before laying down ways to rescue the city. The court was told that Karachi’s police was tainted by political influence and its constituencies suffered from the stranglehold of ethnically divisive groups.
“As far as the injured or wounded persons are concerned, they are countless in number in all the disturbed areas of Karachi where different political parties have dominant populations on the basis of the language being spoken by them,” the court said.
Delimitation was essential to “avoid political polarization”. The SC said that to break the cycle of ethnic strife and turf wars, the boundaries of administrative units like police stations and revenue estates should be altered. Fresh delimitation would allow communities to live together in peace and would discourage “no-go areas”.
In democracies around the world, this takes place usually every ten years. Even though it was announced in November 2011, the judgment remained unchallenged and unimplemented until several political parties went to the SC and pointed out faults in the Karachi electoral list.
The Pakistan Peoples Party, PML-Nawaz, Jamaat-i-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf stated that fair elections were impossible without fresh voter lists. The decision, authored by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, not only ordered fresh lists but it also reminded the ECP of its order to undertake delimitation. In essence, the SC was underlining the need for a constitutional command as contained in Article 222.
Article 222 states that parliament would by law provide for delimitation. All the pre-requisites for fresh delimitation are available to comply with the SC order. It appears to be linked to a fresh census as a political ploy to defer the needful.
The MQM opposes delimitation, saying that a census is needed first. Since the census is scheduled to be completed in 2014, fresh delimitations can be based on the 1998 census.
Clause C of section 2 of The Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974, states that delimitations would be based on the last census. But does it make sense, as the MQM has said, to carry out delimitation without a census.
It is hard to deny that a census would only complement delimitation. As far as the growth in population is concerned, that has already been taken care of during the preparation of voter lists. If there are any discrepancies, they would be removed during verification. The only question, which arises out of the SC verdict on delimitations, pertains to its exclusivity for Karachi.
The SC has referred to by explaining the peculiar situation of Karachi, where runaway killings are the order of the day. The court says this should be changed by changing the political boundaries to make the population homogenous and free from undue political influence. After all, the right to franchise is one of the fundamental rights and the SC, under the constitution, is tasked with the enforcement of fundamental rights.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2012.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ