ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) on Monday formed a five-member committee to develop a consensus on the question of fresh delimitations ahead of the 2018 general elections.
The decision was taken in a meeting, chaired by party chief Nawaz Sharif, held at the Punjab House.
The committee is headed by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and consists of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Minister for States and Frontier Regions retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch and president of the PML-N’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter, Amir Muqam.
The committee has been assigned the task of meeting leaders from all the political parties to remove their concerns over the census issue in order to ensure timely elections, which are due in August next year.
Briefing reporters after the party meeting, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said it was the collective responsibility of all political parties to ensure that elections were held on time so the country could witness another smooth democratic transition.
Mr Iqbal was of the view that the results of the latest census had sent a good message to the smaller provinces, as their representation in parliament would increase.
He said that census was not conducted by the government alone, rather it was “separately” carried by the government and the army and then the results were tabulated. He said they had accepted the census results with an open heart, despite the fact that Punjab was about to lose nine seats.
He also claimed that all the parties had earlier agreed to the constitutional amendment, but it was surprising for the PML-N to see them backtracking from their earlier commitments.
The interior minister said that they could face difficulties in holding the elections on time if they did not get the constitutional amendment bill passed from parliament by Nov 10.
“We request all the parties to cooperate with the government instead of finding excuses, for the sake of the country and democracy,” he added.
Sharif forms five-member body to convince other parties; parliamentary leaders to meet again today
Mr Iqbal ruled out the possibility of holding elections on the basis of the 1998 census, as suggested by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). He said it would be unfair to the smaller provinces.
He also rejected the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) demand for early elections, saying that the party was only making such a demand because it had no confidence in the members of the KP Assembly, who could possibly cause embarrassment for them at the time of the Senate elections in March next year.
Earlier, the government had to abruptly prorogue National Assembly proceedings after it failed to develop a consensus among political parties over the issue of delimitation on the basis of provisional census data.
This was the third consecutive sitting where the PML-N had failed to ensure the presence of two-thirds of members required for the passage of a constitutional amendment seeking the re-allocation of seats of the legislatures. All parties had, during a meeting of the House Business Advisory Committee on Nov 2, agreed to run the session until Nov 14.
One reason for the absence of key PML-N leaders and ministers was the party meeting, being held simultaneously, to discuss the census and delimitation issues.
Even Speaker Ayaz Sadiq expressed his annoyance over the lack of interest shown by treasury members after a number of opposition members, including government ally Zafarullah Khan Jamali, lashed out at the government for taking proceedings “non-seriously”.
But the speaker, who said he was thinking of proroguing the session to allow parties more time to reach a consensus on the constitutional amendment bill, also proceeded to the Punjab House meeting, leaving the deputy speaker with the task of reading out the prorogation order.
Mr Sadiq had warned that if the lawmakers failed to pass the amendment soon, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could take the matter to the Supreme Court, saying that it seemed as if the amendment, which would benefit the smaller provinces by increasing their seats in the legislature, was being deliberately delayed.
He regretted that after all issues were settled in meetings held between parliamentary leaders last week, it seemed that he would have to re-convene the meeting after a change of heart on the part of some parties.
The speaker later convened a meeting of all parliamentary leaders, who will meet today (Tuesday).
Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah said that while the ECP had the right to approach the Supreme Court, the government needed to remove the concerns of other parties over the census issue.
Former prime minister Jamali advised the government to take every step after taking the people into confidence. Expressing displeasure over the absence of a large number of treasury members, Mr Jamali also called for saving parliament’s prestige.
Dr Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) regretted the government’s failure to bring the required 228 members to the house for the passage of the constitutional amendment bill, urging the government to postpone the session or ensure the presence of its members. She was of the view that the ruling party members had in fact expressed their no confidence on the government by staying away from the proceedings.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar said the matter of increasing the number of assembly seats was a serious issue and needed to be resolved amicably through dialogue.
In an apparent reference to the reports that the next general elections could be delayed due to a lack of consensus among parties over the constitutional amendment, the PPP leader said those who wanted to delay the elections could do so even after the passage of the bill.
Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs Barjees Tahir pointed out that while Punjab stood to lose some its representation in parliament as a result of the census, objections were being raised by other provinces. He also recalled the repeated warnings by the ECP, which had asked parliament to pass the required legislation as soon as possible to enable it to complete its work for the upcoming elections.
The Senate also witnessed a protest over the controversial provisional census results when opposition members staged a walkout when Chairman Raza Rabbani did not allow PPP parliamentary leader Taj Haider to move a motion seeking discussion on the issue.
Before the start of the National Assembly session, opposition parties received a briefing from the officials of the Statistics Division over the recently-conducted census. The meeting had been arranged by the speaker as per an agreement between the government and the opposition during an earlier meeting of parliamentary leaders.
Sources said that both the NA speaker and ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad were also present in the briefing.
Talking to Dawn, PPP’s Naveed Qamar termed the briefing “a futile exercise”, alleging that officials of the Statistics Division had failed to give satisfactory answers to their questions. He claimed that they had evidence to prove that the population of Karachi and other parts of Sindh had not been reported in accordance with data available with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra).
Mr Qamar also alleged that the ruling party had prorogued the NA session to prevent the opposition from tabling an amendment to the Elections Act 2017, aimed at removing the clause allowing a disqualified person to become party chief.
He declared that the PPP would never support the constitutional amendment bill tabled by the government if the concerns of Sindh over the fresh census results were not addressed.
Earlier, the heads of all the parliamentary parties had agreed that no change would be made in the existing 272-seat strength of the National Assembly and that of the provincial assemblies and that fresh delimitation of constituencies would be made on the basis of the provisional results of the census held earlier this year.
Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2017