Despite repeated warnings from the Election Commission of Pakistan that it would not be able to carry out a fresh delimitation of constituencies on the basis of the new census without the immediate passage of legislation, the National Assembly once again faced to pass a constitutional amendment on the matter. Officially, the session was adjourned because the National Assembly did not have a quorum but the bill was doomed by the opposition of the PPP and MQM-Pakistan. The PPP had earlier said it would support the bill but changed its mind after scathing criticism from Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, who claimed the delimitation bill was not presented for approval to the Council of Common Interests. It is telling that the opposition comes from parties whose vote banks are concentrated in Sindh. The draft bill, based on initial census data, had decreased National Assembly seats from Punjab by nine, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Islamabad getting additional seats. But Sindh’s total had remained unchanged. Both the PPP and the MQM-P believe that the population of Sindh has been deliberately undercounted.
There are certainly valid reasons to be sceptical of the initial data and to voice these concerns but it does not justify hijacking the delimitation bill. Should the constitutional amendment not pass in the coming days, the government will be left with two unappetising choices. It can conduct the elections on the basis of the outdated 1998 census or, more drastically, it can delay elections to give the ECP time to carry out a proper delimitation on the basis of the full census results. The latter option has already been ruled out by the government and opposition parties. The government should now swallow its pride and negotiate with the opposition. It can promise a full review of the census results and try to work more closely with the Council of Common Interests so that the concerns of the provinces are heard. This would also give it time to perfect the draft delimitation bill. The massive increase in our population calls for an expansion of assemblies. With the number of assemblies staying the same, each National Assembly constituency will have an average population of 780,000. This is far too large for one seat, and serves only to keep representatives remote from the public they are meant to serve. The priority, though, should be convincing the opposition to get behind the delimitation bill as soon as possible so that the ECP can begin preparing for next year’s elections.