PML-N blows hot and cold on census issue


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LAHORE: The ruling PML-N blows hot and cold on the issue of the census as portfolio-less minister Javed Latif on Thursday announced that holding the upcoming general elections under the new census will result in a delay, which his party is not in favour of.

“Our party is not in favour of even delaying elections only by a single day. A delay is not in the interest of the country, as the government formed on the basis of a fresh mandate will help unite the country. Elections can be held on time only if they are held on the basis of old census,” Latif said at a press conference.

This statement apparently negates the recent announcement by the PML-N president, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who on August 1 clarified that elections will be held according to the new census.

During a TV interview, Shehbaz had revealed that general elections will be held on the basis of the digital census. “Since census has been completed, the elections must be held on the basis of it,” he said.

He said a Council of Common Interest (CCI) meeting would be called once the results of the census are compiled. When reminded that this decision could lead to a delay in polls, he said it was the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and there was no reason for any delay.

Interestingly, two senior PML-N leaders—who also serve as federal ministers—had earlier last month declared that elections would be held on the basis of the 2017 census.

In an interview, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had claimed that the government would not notify the digital census and that elections would be held on the basis of the 2017 census. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal had also repeated the same words.

These statements had ruffled feathers of the MQM, a coalition partner, which had opposed the government position claiming that this decision would deprive millions of people of their voting rights.

The PM had later held meetings with the MQM leaders. In these meetings, Shehbaz had assured the MQM that the federal ministers’ statements were not the government’s official position.

Talking to The Express Tribune, MQM leader Mustafa Kamal earlier said during meetings with the PM, they had taken up this matter and Ahsan Iqbal was also present at one of the meetings.

He said Ahsan Iqbal had told the MQM delegation that he had issued a clarification after his first statement but that clarification was not reported prominently.

JUI-F leader Moulana Amjad endorsed the PM’s views saying that since the CCI decision was binding and the census work had completed, the elections should be held according to the new census.

He said people cannot be deprived of their right to vote. However, he accepted that the concerned ministry should have completed the census process on time.

PPP Information Secretary Faisal Karim Kundi, however, said they have reservations about the PM’s statement regarding holding elections on the basis of the new census.  “We will present our reservation at the CCI meeting. We will not endorse any decision that leads to delay in elections,” he said.

Kundi said in theory it would take four months to complete the delimitation process while in practice it might take even eight month to a year.

When asked to comment on Javed Latif’s statement, he said the PML-N should put its house in order instead of giving contradictory statements. However, he said it is their internal matter.

To a question about the MQM reservations, he said the MQM’s is raising this issue at “someone else’s behest”. He said people who want to delay elections are favoring holding them under the new census.

“The PPP wants elections in 60 days, if assemblies complete their terms and in 90 days if they are dissolved earlier, but not later,” he added.

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