Islamabad, August 5 (Reuters): A general election in Pakistan due later this year will be based on a new census, the law minister said on Saturday, indicating the vote could be delayed.
The announcement fuelled opposition fears that a caretaker administration to be set up to oversee the vote could mean polling day is pushed back by months.
The opposition party led by former premier Imran Khan says the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is seeking to avoid facing an election as Khan’s popularity grows.
Sharif’s tenure expires on Aug 12. The caretaker government will take over from him to hold the elections in a maximum of three months.
Police arrested Khan on Saturday after a court sentenced him to three years in prison for illegally selling state gifts, potentially barring the former cricket star from contesting the election.
The government denies it is dragging its feet, saying it is a constitutional requirement to hold elections under the latest census.
The law minister, Azam Nazeer Tarar, told Geo News TV that it could take about four months to complete the census and draw new constituency boundaries.
That means the elections due by November at the latest could be delayed by several months, a former top official of the Election Commission of Pakistan, Kunwar Dilshad, told Reuters.
“It is going to make things very complicated,” he said, adding the new census means new constituency boundaries will be needed across the country.
It is not possible to complete that process and hold the election within the constitutionally required deadline, meaning the election cannot be held before February next year, he said.
Tarar said the decision was taken at a meeting of the Council of Common Interest, which included representatives from federal and provincial governments.
“It was a consensus decision to hold elections under the new census,” the minister said.
The census shows the population has risen to 241.49 million, but new constituency boundaries must now be drawn up, which the minister said will take about four months.
The election commission will decide exactly how much time it needs, Tarar said.
Sharif has proposed dissolving parliament on Aug 9, three days before the end of its term.
That would mean the election commission has 90 days to hold the vote against 60 days if parliament were dissolved on Aug 12 at the end of its full five-year term.