All parties oppose delay in 2018 elections

Updated 08 Nov 2017

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NATIONAL Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq chairing the meeting of parliamentary leaders at Parliament House on Tuesday.—APP
NATIONAL Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq chairing the meeting of parliamentary leaders at Parliament House on Tuesday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: The leaders of parliamentary parties on Tuesday failed to break the deadlock over fresh delimitation of constituencies, but there was a general consensus among almost all political parties that the upcoming general election should not be delayed at any cost.

And to ensure holding of the next elections on time, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — the staunchest opponent of the delimitation of constituencies on the basis of provisional census data — also showed a little flexibility when it told the government that it was ready to support the constitutional amendment bill seeking re-allocation of the seats of legislatures, if the party’s concerns were “effectively reflected” in the draft of the proposed law.

The meeting of the parliamentary leaders had been called by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who is also head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) five-member committee formed by party president Nawaz Sharif for this purpose, after the government failed to get the constitutional amendment bill seeking re-allocation of the seats of the legislatures and delimitation of the constituencies on the basis of provisional census data passed from the National Assembly.

No breakthrough on delimitation issue; MQM softens stance on proposed law

Briefly talking to reporters after the meeting, the speaker simply said that they would meet again on Wednesday (today). He, however, said all the parties had expressed their desire that the elections should be held on time.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had asked the government to refer the delimitation issue to the Council of Common Interests (CCI). He said the government was reluctant to take the matter to the CCI.

Mr Shah made it clear that the PPP wanted to see the elections on time and for that purpose he had suggested that the elections could be held on the basis of the 1998 census. He even hinted at boycotting the meetings of the parliamentary leaders, saying, if the government repeated its old stance, “then we will see whether we should attend the meetings or not”.

On this occasion, the PPP’s parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar rejected the government’s viewpoint that the elections could not be held on the basis of old census.

Talking to Dawn, MQM parliamentary leader Dr Farooq Sattar said that the offer to re-draft the bill had been made by the government side and he had agreed to it “only in the interest of on time general elections”.

Dr Sattar said the party would wait for the government’s draft and then respond to it after consulting legal and constitutional experts. He explained that the government had itself suggested them that they could prepare a new draft in which their concerns would be reflected without affecting “our basic contention on the census”. The MQM leader said since the party had already moved the Supreme Court on the matter, it did not want to see its case getting weak in the court and they had asked the government to also keep this factor in mind.

The MQM leader categorically declared that his party would never support the constitutional amendment bill in the present form and without redressal of their grievances. He reiterated the party’s demand that the block-wise data should be made public so that they could verify the figures.

When asked if such a step would not compromise the confidentiality and privacy of the citizens, Dr Sattar said his party was not asking for the house-wise data, it simply wanted the government to provide information about each and every single block and one block comprised 250 houses. He alleged that during the census exercise, his party had submitted thousands of complaints about exclusion of houses and buildings in Karachi, but to no avail.

The MQM leader claimed that his party had the “proof” to show that the census was completely flawed in which Karachi’s population had been shown less than the actual one. He said in the previous census held in 1998, there were 7,000 blocks in Karachi and its population was over 10 million. Now, he said, census had been conducted in over 14,000 blocks. “Therefore, Karachi’s population cannot be less than two million in any case,” he added.

In reply to a question, Dr Sattar said that his party could consider the option of handing over the census data to an independent commission or body, if it received any such offer. However, he said, to prove discrepancies before that commission, again the parties would be requiring data. He also said that the party was reinforcing its petition in the Supreme Court by submitting some more facts.

The parliamentary leaders of the opposition parties also criticised the government for abruptly proroguing the National Assembly session on Monday.

The PPP and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) alleged that the government had run away from parliament as the opposition had submitted the bill challenging the provision of the Elections Act, 2017 under which Nawaz Sharif had become the PML-N president.

On Monday after a party meeting, Mr Sharif had constituted a five-member committee with 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.

Sources said that the speaker also met Mr Sharif at the Punjab House on Tuesday and briefed him about the meeting of the parliamentary leaders.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid had introduced the constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly on Nov 2 after an “agreement” among all the parties during a meeting of the parliamentary leaders of all the parties with Speaker Ayaz Sadiq. However, soon after the introduction of the bill, PPP’s parliamentary leader Naveed Qamar declared the move “unconstitutional”, alleging that the government had played a trick with them by telling them that the bill was being moved in the light of the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) whereas it was not the case.

Similarly, MQM parliamentary leader Dr Sattar also criticised the government’s move to introduce the bill without first taking any step to remove the concerns of Sindh.

Earlier, the heads of all the parliamentary parties had agreed that no change would be made in the existing 272 general seats of the National Assembly and 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.

The delimitation of national and provincial assembly constituencies is mandatory after a fresh census and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had already called for carrying out the required legislation as early as possible to allow it to carry out the massive exercise of making fresh delimitation of constituencies and preparing new electoral rolls.

Although the number of seats in the National Assembly will remain at 272, fresh delimitation would affect Punjab dominated by the ruling PML-N as the province stands to lose up to nine seats in the lower house. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will get five new seats, Balochistan will get three and the Islamabad Capital Territory will receive one additional seat. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) will retain its 12 seats in the assembly.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2017