A possible change in where displaced persons get to vote – in a stated bid to stop gender-based discrimination – may have the unwanted consequence of unbalancing the electoral map, MPs heard on Monday.

The issue concerns where displaced persons can register to vote. Even though persons designated as displaced through the mother (the mother being a refugee from 1974) are for legal purposes recognised as being equal to displaced persons through the father, nonetheless a disparity continues to exist: displaced persons through their father may register to vote either in the district the father originally hailed from, or in the district where they currently reside; but displaced persons through their mother do not have that option.

The matter had been raised earlier this year, with some MPs but also the ombudswoman saying this state of affairs constituted discrimination based on gender.

But in parliament on Monday, officials, while not opposed in principle, cautioned that such a change could well backfire in the sense of recalibrating the electoral map – specifically in relation to the parliamentary seats allocated to the various districts.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou said that, with the proposed change under discussion, the distribution of parliamentary seats may end up being non-representative of the electorate.

It would be better, he added, to dialogue with all the political parties before such a legislative amendment was tabled. And he advised that, in any case, any such initiative should come after the 2024 municipal elections.

An interior ministry memo submitted to parliament did some number-crunching and explained how the electoral map would change. If displaced persons by their mother voted in their district of displacement (Kyrenia or Famagusta), this would lead to the loss of one parliamentary seat each for Nicosia, Larnaca and Paphos. Famagusta would then gain two seats, and Kyrenia one.

The number of persons designated as displaced through the mother comes to 90,049 – of whom 50,475 are aged under 18, while 39,823 are registered on the electoral roll. The number of persons designated displaced through the father, and who are registered on the electoral roll, comes to 79,425.

If all these displaced persons were given the option of where to vote, they would total just over 111,000.

Under the assumption that displaced persons by the mother follow the same registration trends as they do currently, the interior ministry concludes that the re-jigging of parliamentary seats could be even greater across a 20-year time span. That’s in the scenario of having the option of where to vote. On the flipside, should most displaced persons choose to be registered as voters in the district where they live, that could result in a reduction of parliamentary seats for the Famagusta and Kyrenia districts.

In the other scenario – voting in the district of displacement made mandatory – it is estimated that in 20 years’ time most voters would come to be designated as displaced – again resulting in a major reallocation of parliamentary seats for the districts.