Census is always a politically fraught activity in Pakistan and the latest one is proving to be no different. The issue now is whether or not delimitation of constituencies should take place before the next elections. Some days ago, it appeared that the political parties had reached consensus that some form of delimitation should take place on the basis of provisional results (notwithstanding PTI’s demand for early elections, which appears to have been withdrawn). Nevertheless, on Monday, when the National Assembly met to vote on a constitutional amendment which would have ensured a pre-election delimitation of constituencies, and a subsequent re-allocation of seats in the legislative bodies, the session concluded because there was no quorum. The speaker subsequently called a meeting to try and evolve consensus among political parties on how to proceed. That meeting also failed to chalk out a solution. Given that the last census took place after a gap of 19 years, it seems outrageous to be even having this discussion — because the need for a new delimitation of constituencies seems to be a no brainer. Democracy is all about representation, which is why the reluctance to carry out regular delimitations and adjust seats accordingly is a travesty. For one thing, there is good reason to believe that if this exercise is carried out the way it actually should be, then the elections won’t take place in August 2018. This is a legitimate concern. The Election Commission has already said that it needs six months to carry out the exercise, and if it waits for the final results of the census (due in April 2018) then elections can’t be held before October 2018. The commission has also warned that holding elections without carrying out a delimitation exercise would essentially be unconstitutional. While governments cannot always be run with consensus, decisions that require constitutional amendments should preferably be based on debate and some level of unanimity of views Given that not only has Pakistan’s population increased significantly, but the shares of different provinces in the total population have changed, the ECP’s contention makes sense. Of the political parties, the most vociferous about not extending the time frame for the election are the PPP (with a history of waiting a decade for a legitimate poll to take place) and the PTI (which is hoping to ride a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment buttressed by the corruption scandals that the PML-N is embroiled in). The only answer to this is to start a delimitation exercise based on very preliminary results. This will be imperfect, but better than nothing. The other issue is of course that changing the ratio of seats allocated to provinces will benefit some parties at the expense of others. Punjab is set to lose seats in the National Assembly, while the seats allocated to Balochistan should almost double. Balochistan’s quota increase would yield particularly interesting results given the fractious politics of the province, where a host of players are jockeying for power and forming (often unlikely) alliances. And then of course there is the larger of certain provinces (mainly Sindh) and political parties (mainly MQM, but also others) expressing doubts about the census results to begin with. Their concerns should at least get a legitimate hearing, and if nothing else, enumeration methodology needs to be widely shared. Apparently the political parties have reached a consensus that the total seats in the legislatures (national as well as provincial) will not be increased, but that in the National Assembly, the proportion of seats going to different provinces should change. If, as the census suggests, 22000 census units have been added on since 1998, this is not the best solution. On the other hand, it is expensive and complicated to increase the strength of the legislature. It is clear that the matter cannot be resolved by political leaders issuing statements to newspapers. Nor is it something to be decided in cabinet meetings. Discussions on such matters is precisely why the Council of Common Interests (CCI) was formed. Convening a special session of the CCI to make a decision on something so important should not be an issue for the authorities concerned. While governments cannot always be run with consensus, decisions that require constitutional amendments should preferably be based on debate and some level of unanimity of views. Political leaders across the spectrum need to show some maturity here, beginning with the ruling party. The writer is an economist and policy analyst based in Islamabad Published in Daily Times, November 9th 2017.