The fate of a constitutional amendment to freshly delimit constituencies based on the recently-held census was left hanging after parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly failed to arrive at an agreement on Wednesday.
"The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has made it clear that it will go to the Supreme Court for directions [if the parliament fails to decide on something]; but we hope that since this is in parliament's domain, it should be the one to do it," NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq said while speaking to the media after his meeting with parliamentary leaders ended.
Answering a question from a reporter, the speaker said he was hopeful that elections would be held on time. He dismissed Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah's suggestion that the elections be held based on the previous census, since, he said, the law and the constitution did not allow for it.
He also denied reports of a heated argument between Sheikh Rasheed and Mahmood Khan Achakzai and said that everyone had presented their point of view in a cordial environment.
Sadiq also said that though a consensus had not been reached regarding the amendment, there was an agreement over holding elections in a timely manner.
Law Minister Zaid Hamid also stressed the importance of having the constitutional amendment passed; as, he said, the government could approve the provisional census results using a simple majority vote but a constitutional amendment — which requires a two-third vote to be initiated — is required for delimitation of constituencies to happen.
Speaking to journalists earlier, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed had said that the government does not have the numbers for a constitutional amendment. "The meeting of parliamentary leaders has failed," he said.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi concurred with Rasheed, adding that he did not foresee the PPP's reservations being allayed.
Speaking to the media, ECP Director General (DG) Arshad Khan said that the ECP had asked the government to pass the amendment by November 10. However, he said that even if the government is able to do it within the next ten days (by Nov 18), the ECP can begin its work on time.
He said that the ECP requires four months to compete the process of delimitation of the constituencies and added that the elections can be held on time if the commission is provided with the provisional census report on time. "If a decision is not made in time, holding the elections [according to the schedule] will become difficult," he said.
Mired in differences
Hamid had introduced the constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly on Nov 2 after an “agreement” among all factions was reached after a two-day meeting of all parliamentary leaders.
But soon after the introduction of the bill, the PPP’s parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar had declared the move “unconstitutional”, alleging 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) though it was not the case.
Similarly, MQM parliamentary leader Dr Farooq Sattar had also criticised the government move to introduce the bill without taking any step to allay the concerns of Sindh. He said the MQM had serious concerns over the census results and suggested delimitation on the basis of number of voters, instead of the population.
The PPP has since demanded that the amendment be approved by the CCI before being brought to the parliament while the MQM has suggested that the delimitation of constituencies be based on voter lists rather than the recently-held census.