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ISLAMABAD: The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), an alliance of over 50 civil society organisations, has pointed out a serious disparity in the constitutional amendment bill seeking re-allocation of the seats of legislatures. The network claims that the proposed law violates the basic principles of the Constitution.

According to Fafen, the seats among the federating units as suggested in the draft law had not been distributed among the federal territories in accordance with the basic constitutional framework that required allocation of seats among all federating units on the basis of population in accordance with the last preceding census.

In a statement issued a day after the Council of Common Interests (CII) agreed upon carrying out delimitation of the constituencies and re-allocation of the seats of the national and provincial assemblies on the basis of the provisional census data, Fafen said that the constitutional amendment bill did not address the number of reserved seats to be re-allocated to religious minorities in line with their share of the population.

Urging the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) to make the population figures of non-Muslim minorities’ public, Fafen asked parliamentary parties to proceed with the bill only after this omission was deliberated upon and the representation of religious minorities was satisfactorily considered.

Seeks re-allocation of reserved seats for minorities

The proposed amendment, Fafen said, also sought a one-off exemption from the requirement of carrying out fresh delimitation of constituencies on the basis of officially published census results.

The one-time provision is being sought to allow delimitation for the General Elections 2018 on the basis of the provisional results of the sixth population and housing census, which has been questioned by national and regional political parties for their accuracy.

According to the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, 2017 introduced in the National Assembly earlier this month, the government is seeking to amend clauses 3 and 5 of Article 51.

“The amendment being sought for Article 51(5) will change the basic framework of the Constitution if it is passed,” said Fafen in the statement, adding that the existing Article 51(5) required the seats in the National Assembly to be allocated to each province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the federal capital on the basis of population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published.

However, it said the proposed amendment exempted Fata from the principle of allocating general seats to the provinces in proportion to their population.

Consequently, the re-allocation of seats, as evident from the proposed amendment to Article 51(3), does not reflect the constitutional principle of parity by population.

The proposed amendment seeks to retain Fata’s number of National Assembly seats at 12 (which were provided for under former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf) — twice as many seats than would otherwise be allocated to it in proportion to its population.

If this constitutional amendment is passed, Punjab will get three less general seats, Sindh two and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) one than what they would get if the allocation was made on the basis of existing provisions of Article 51(5). In addition, Fafen said that the seats reserved for women should also be allocated to Fata and Islamabad Capital Territory.

“Such deviations from the basic principles that bind the federation require extraordinary reasoning and justification. It would be more appropriate to reach a decision on the future of Fata — its merger with KP or status as a separate province — to address the issue of its underdevelopment/underrepresentation instead of creating deviations from the Constitution to over represent a region in the national legislature.

Alternatively, specific amendments may be made in the Constitution to allow for additional seats to all under-developed areas in the country. All territories mentioned in Article 1(2) of the Constitution need to be treated equally and proportionately, Fafen observed.

Fafen urged the government to deal with this highly technical issue of official publication of census results through administrative means.

“The government should direct the PBS to finalise the census results to enable their prompt official publication. Alternatively, the PBS should be required to officially declare that there will be no significant deviations in the official census results from the provisional data,” read Fafen’s statement.

“However, the government must also allay the concerns of national and regional parties over the census results, addressing all genuine complaints about under-enumeration,” it added.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2017