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Analysis: Fata merger tangled in electoral cobweb

Updated September 13, 2017

The Khyber Pakhtun­khwa Asse­mbly will get 23 more seats if and when the Fede­rally Adminis­tered Tribal Areas (Fata) are merged into the province.

This is what the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government proposed in the Constitution (30th Amendment) Bill, 2017 introduced in the National Assembly in May this year as one of the major steps planned with regard to the merger.

The merger makes complete political sense and is supported by the federal cabinet, the KP government and almost all the major parties. But the changes it will trigger in other houses are likely to disturb the electoral calculus of some political parties and that may well be one of the reasons behind the government decision to defer the passage of the bill despite the clear possibility of seeing it through parliament.

The KP Assembly currently has 124 seats (99 general, 22 women, 4 non-Muslim) and the Fata merger will bring in additional 23 (18 general, 4 women and 1 non-Muslim).

Fata, however, at present has 12 seats in the National Assembly which are double its share in the country’s population as enumerated in the sixth population census.

The tribal areas have always had this rather dubious distinction. They were awarded seven seats in the country’s first directly elected National Assembly (with the present four provinces then having a total of 131 seats). That was higher than Fata’s share in population.

But the share proportionate to population made little sense then as the elections in Fata were held under limited franchise that gave voting right only to a select few thousand maliks.

Fata was given 8 of the 200 seats when constituencies were delimited for the first time under the 1973 Constitution. That was exactly in accordance with the area’s proportionate share in population as documented in the 1972 census.

The constituencies were delimited again in 1988 following the fourth population census held in 1981. The demographic changes demanded that the Fata share be reduced from eight to five, giving one more seat each to Punjab, Sindh and KP.

The Commission had accordingly published the preliminary delimitation when President Ghulam Ishaq Khan promulgated an ordinance declaring that the Fata share shall remain as previous.

The next delimitation was held under the government of retired General Pervez Musharraf who raised the seat allocation for Fata to 12 which was double its share in population.

He provided it legal cover by inserting a table (as Clause 3 of Article 51) detailing seat share of each province and area. But the original article calling for seat distribution in accordance with population is also the part of constitution (Article 51 (5)) which is contradictory to Clause 3.

This was done despite the fact that adult franchise had finally been extended to Fata before 1997 general elections. The upcoming delimitation exercise will have to deal with this contradiction in the two clauses of the Constitution.

Fata has been given the advantage in allocation of seats in the National Assembly on the pretext that the area does not have representation in a provincial assembly and thus needs to be compensated. If, however, the 30th Amendment in the Constitution is passed before the delimitation, this argument will lose ground.

According to the provisional population figures from the 2017 census, the share of KP province in National Assembly proportionate to its population will go up by five seats (from 35 to 40) but the share for Fata under the same formula will go down from 12 to six.

This means that the combined province of KP and Fata will have to face the collective loss of one seat.

This distribution will, however, be beneficial for Sindh and Punjab as the former will gain two seats and Punjab’s expected loss of seven seats will be reduced to four. Balochistan and Islamabad will gain two and one additional seat under any scenario.

The merger of Fata with KP will also end the justification for it having eight separate seats in the Senate.

So the new province will lose one seat in the National Assembly and eight in the Senate while gaining 23 seats in the provincial legislature.

Now the political parties read this balance sheet in different ways. The parties with more focus on provincial politics consider it beneficial but the ones more interested in using their local base as leverage in national politics are reluctant and oppose the merger.

The big question facing Fata before the next general elections is — will the efforts for the long-awaited mainstreaming fall prey to electoral expediencies of some political parties?

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2017