ISLAMABAD: The Natio­nal Assembly is finally set to pass a crucial constitutional amendment bill on Thurs­day (today) seeking fresh delimitation of constituencies ahead of the upcoming general elections on the basis of provisional results of the population census.

Talking to reporters after presiding over a meeting of parliamentary leaders, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq claimed that they had arrived at a consensus regarding the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 seeking re-allocation of seats of all national and provincial assemblies.

Mr Sadiq, however, said that he had convened another meeting of parliamentary leaders before the National Assembly’s session will begin on Thursday, to seek a formal approval from all the parties since no one from the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) managed to attend the meeting on Wednesday.

The parliamentary leaders have also agreed to table a bill in the lower house to restore Sections 7B and 7C of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002 in their original form. In the Elections Act 2017, the above-mentioned sections, which relate to the status of Ahmadis, had been omitted.

Despite the fact that Mr Sadiq had spoken to Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah over the telephone during the meeting and sought the PPP’s consent in the matter, parliamentarians of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and some other parties asked the speaker to convene another meeting so that they could hear the message directly from the PPP representatives.

When contacted, Mr Shah confirmed that he had spoken to Mr Sadiq by telephone and had been taken into confidence over the decision. He confirmed that they had decided to pass the constitutional amendment Bill on Thursday.

Mr Shah added that he had even told other participants of the meeting that the PPP had no objections to the passage of the bill since its demand that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) would have to approve of the bill had been accepted.

He said that he had arrived in Islamabad for the meeting of parliamentary leaders, but had to rush back to Karachi with MNA Ghulam Mustafa Shah, who had suffered a heart attack earlier in the day.

The issue of conducting fresh delimitation of constituencies had been stuck in deadlock for several days till the CCI, on Monday, finally agreed to hold the elections on the basis of the provisional results of the census on the condition that a third party audit of one per cent of the population blocks would be conducted within three months.

The PPP had previously demanded that the amendment be approved by the CCI before being passed by the National Assembly and the Senate. Since the government did not have the required two-thirds majority in the 104-member Senate, it had to acquiesce to the PPP’s demand.

The Sindh-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which had also protested against the controversial census data, had raised objections over the amendment bill at the parliamentary leaders’ meeting again.

Talking to Dawn, MQM’s MNA Sheikh Salahuddin said he had suggested that the MQM’s concerns be mentioned in the “Statement of Objects and Reasons” of the Bill. He said the party was ready to support the bill in larger national interest if its concerns were addressed in an effective manner in the draft of the bill. He, however, said the MQM would arrive at a final decision about its vote on the bill on Thursday after an intra-party consultation.

Khatm-e-Nubuwwat

The parliamentary leaders also agreed to table a bill in the lower house to restore Sections 7B and 7C of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002 in their original form.

Section 7B says that the status of Ahmadis remains as stated in the Constitution of Pakistan, while Section 7C states that if an enrolled voter’s belief in the finality of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) prophethood was contended, they would have to sign a declaration stating so, failing which their “name shall be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslim”.

Though the government had argued that the sections had been omitted by clerical mistake, the omission had sparked protests in Islamabad by religious parties, disrupting public life and prompting police to set up shipping containers to prevent the protesters from entering the city.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2017