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ISLAMABAD: A new private member’s bill calling for a change in the criteria of the allocation of reserved seats in the National Assembly, which was recently tabled in the lower house by JUI-F MNA Naeema Kishwar Khan, has its heart in the right place, but may not see the light of day anytime soon.

In the proposed amendment to Article 51 of the Constitution, she posits that the seats reserved for women be allocated on the basis of the number of votes a party secures, not on the number of general seats won.

The bill’s statement of objects and reasons reads: “We know that women member seats are reserved in the National Assembly on the basis of total general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned. Therefore, it is suggested that women members may be elected on reserved seats on the basis of votes received by each political party and not on the seats won by each political party.”

Electoral experts endorse move, but remain sceptical of private member’s bill’s chances of success

“If this amendment is made, then the smaller political parties, which are not able to win a general seat and be able to [become] part of the National Assembly will also gain representation in parliament,” Naeema Kishwar Khan told Dawn.

The representation of women will not increase with the passage of the bill, she said, but it will give proportional representation to political parties.

The bill was introduced in the National Assembly last week and was referred to committee the same day.

Mudassir Rizvi from the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) – which monitors and observes general elections and parliamentary affairs – said they had been proposing a similar amendment for three years. He said it will make democracy in the country more representative and will help reduce distortions of the vote-to-seat ratio.

“Most democracies in the world have shifted to similar mechanisms. The system that the bill proposes will lead to a better translation of votes into representation,” he said.

A Fafen study found that 51.9pc of the votes polled in the general elections of 2013 did not translate into representation and were wasted, Mr Rizvi said.

“What this bill is suggesting is that if, for example, Party A secures 70pc of the total votes cast, and Party B secures 30pc; Party A should be given 7 seats out of ten, while and Party B will be given 3,” he explained.

Fafen calculated that under this new system, PTI – which won 16.3pc of the vote in the 2013 elections and won 28 general seats in the National Assembly – would be allocated 12 women’s seats under this new system, as opposed to their current tally of six.

Similarly, the PML-N, which secured 31.5pc of the vote and claimed 126 general seats, would have had 23 reserved seats under the proportional system, as opposed to the 35 they currently hold.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) agreed, saying that if the formula suggested in the bill was adopted, representation will be more equitable and in line with international standards.

“The concept of registration in this country is distorted,” he said, adding, “The number of reserved seats for women was increased to 60 in the Musharraf years. The original idea, even then, had been to adopt proportional representation, as suggested by this bill.”

However, he said that pressure from major political parties at the time had led to just the number of seats being increased, without any change in the method of their allocation, he said.

He also opposed quotas in principle, saying, “no matter how you compute it, women are still regarded as being indirectly elected if they are on reserved seats”. This, he said, decreased their perceived legitimacy as compared to those on general seats.

However, Mohammad Rashid Mafzool Zaka of the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS) said that the current method of allocating reserved seats to women was studied and agreed upon by 13 political parties, adding that their political consensus should be respected.

But the question remains, will this private member’s bill be passed by a government-controlled National Assembly? Mr Rizvi thinks not. “Fafen is not expecting this to happen because the current National Assembly has not passed any private member’s bill so far,” he said.

But he hastened to add that the electoral reforms committee was considering the same proposal, and said that forum may be a safer bet for bringing about such a change.

Naeema Kishwar Khan, who is also part of that committee, told Dawn that while she knew the dismal track record of private member’s legislation, she would keep pushing for the bill at all forums.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2016