ISLAMABAD: Despite an understanding among all the parties, the National Assembly on Thursday failed to pass a crucial constitutional amendment bill seeking reallocation of seats of the national and provincial assemblies and fresh delimitation of constituencies on the basis of provisional census results.

Though the apparent reason for the failure was lack of numbers as a constitutional amendment requires a vote by two-thirds of members (228 in the 342-member house), the last-minute objections raised by the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) over the draft indicated that the passage of the already-delayed bill might face some hindrances.

Soon after the introduction of the bill by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, PPP’s parliamentary leader Naveed Qamar alleged that the government had played a trick on them by telling them that the bill was being moved in the light of the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) whereas Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had stated earlier in the day that no such decision had been made by the CCI in any of its meetings.

PPP, MQM raise last-minute objections

Mr Qamar even declared the proposed bill as “unconstitutional”. He, however, did not specifically announce if his party was going to backtrack from its earlier commitment of supporting the bill in parliament as per the “consensus decision” taken by the parliamentary leaders of all the parties in the two-day meeting under Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on the issue.

The PPP took this ambiguous stance over the issue a day after the party took a U-turn on across-the-board accountability while discussing another bill seeking to amend the controversial accountability laws.

Similarly, parliamentary leader of the MQM Dr Farooq Sattar criticised the government’s move to introduce the bill without first taking any step to remove the concerns of Sindh province. He said that the MQM had serious concerns over the census results. He called for delimitation on the basis of number of voters, instead of the population in the constituencies. He said if the formula was genuinely applied Karachi would get one additional seat in the NA. He said that his party had already launched a movement to mobilise people over the census issue.

Dr Sattar said that he understood the urgency of the issue as no one wanted to see elections getting delayed, but the burden of nine-year delay in conducting the census should not be put on the present parliament. He said that his party would move an amendment to the bill.

Responding to the objections raised by the two opposition members, Law Minister Zahid Hamid claimed that Mr Qamar had not raised the CCI issue in any of the two meetings of the parliamentary leaders and, therefore, raising objections at this stage was uncalled-for.

At this point, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai took the floor and lashed out at the two opposition parties for, what he called, backtracking from their earlier commitments. He said the bill had been included in the agenda of the house in the light of the consensus that had been reached during the meeting of the parliamentary leaders.

“If someone has received directives from the party leadership to create trouble, then he should admit it and say sorry (for it),” Mr Achakzai said. He said Dr Farooq Sattar had also raised the same objections in the meeting, but at the end all the parties had agreed to carry out the amendment in the Constitution. He said the decision was announced by the speaker in the presence of the journalists.

“If you have any compulsion then have the guts and say that I was present in the meeting and I had agreed to it but now I have received directives [to change the stance],” he said.

Dr Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said that her party had agreed to support the bill because it did not want to see any delay in the next general elections. She, however, asked the government to remove the concerns of other parties.

When the members were still discussing the issue, independent MNA from Muzaffargarh Jamshed Dasti pointed out lack of quorum, forcing Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi to adjourn the session till Friday morning.

Opposition protest

Before the introduction of the bill, the opposition members lodged a strong protest over the government’s recent decision to increase prices of petroleum products.

Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah severely criticised the decision and alleged that the government had bent upon collecting easy money by directly taxing the masses after its failure to recover taxes.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal defended the government’s decision and claimed that no new tax had been introduced by the PML-N government.

PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi, MQM’s Farooq Sattar and Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami also criticised the government’s decision of increasing oil prices.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2017

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