DUE to the Supreme Court’s recent actions, there is renewed focus on the electoral dynamics of Karachi. Two cases before the apex court have raised issues concerning how the metropolis votes. In the first, the court has called for new delimitation of electoral constituencies in the city while hearing the suo motu case on law and order as a measure to quell violence. In the second case, in reply to petitions filed by several political parties arguing that votes have been ‘shifted’ out of Karachi, the Supreme Court has suggested the army be called to assist in door-to-door verification of voters.
Clarity in a number of areas is needed before these moves proceed any further. Firstly, controlling crime and redrawing the map of electoral constituencies are two very different things and have little in common. Clamping down on violence in the metropolis requires other, more direct solutions. It is unclear what delimiting new constituencies will do to crack down on criminal elements. Secondly, as far as the act of delimitation itself is concerned, there are two pertinent questions: why just in Karachi and why now, when elections are just months away? Legally and practically, a new census is essential for the delimitation process to be error- and controversy-free. But there has not been a population count since 1998. The law requires that constituencies be delimited after every census. Also, redrawing only Karachi’s constituencies may open a Pandora’s box. For example, it has been pointed out that there is as dire a need for new delimitation in Balochistan and Fata as there is in Karachi. As for the number of voters that have been registered outside Karachi despite living and working in the metropolis for several years, this also needs to be clarified. A figure of three million such voters has been cited. Where did this number come from? Election observers note that while the issue may be genuine, the number of such voters is much lower. The Election Commission of Pakistan needs to investigate and come out with the facts, keeping in mind that while Karachi’s population grows due to its status as an economic hub, other parts of the country are also experiencing population shifts, which need to be reflected in the electoral map.
Ideally, a census should be carried out after the general elections; when reliable population data emerges, the delimitation process can be carried out countrywide. Perhaps this point deserves due focus. Meanwhile, electoral matters are best left to the ECP to decide, as the court’s intervention in these affairs may complicate the situation, even if guided by the best of intentions.