ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Thursday passed the 24th Constitution Amendment Bill 2017 by a 242-1 vote, paving the way for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies ahead of the next general elections on the basis of provisional census data.
In a major development, in order to win the crucial support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for the bill seeking reallocation of seats of the legislatures, the government in a last-minute meeting agreed to increase the number of auditable population census blocks from one to five per cent.
It was during the extended Maghrib prayers break that NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq convened a meeting of parliamentary leaders of the MQM, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in his chamber after the Muttahida showed its reluctance to vote for the bill without addressing the party’s concerns over the census.
• 24th Constitution Amendment Bill passed • MQM’s demand for audit of 5pc of census blocks accepted • Khatm-i-Nabuwwat declaration restored to original form
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was also called by the speaker to the meeting and it was on his assurance that the census issue would again be referred to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) for approving the MQM’s demand that a third-party audit of five per cent population blocks would be conducted, instead of one per cent as had been agreed at the CCI meeting, that the MQM agreed to vote for the bill.
The ruling party — which faced great difficulties in ensuring the presence of its own members to fulfil the requirement of a two-thirds vote (228 in the 342-member house) — had no option but to accept the MQM demand.
Before announcing his party’s support for the bill, MQM’s parliamentary leader Dr Farooq Sattar thanked the prime minister, the PPP and the PTI for addressing the party’s concerns in an effective manner. He said the MQM wanted to open 10pc of the population blocks, but other parties insisted on 5pc and the MQM agreed to it in the larger national interest in order to ensure continuity of the democratic system and timely elections.
Parliamentary leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Sahibzada Tariqullah and Aftab Sherpao of the Qaumi Watan Party, however, complained that the speaker had not called them to the final meeting despite the fact that they had been invited to all the previous meetings on the issue.
Although the number of seats in the National Assembly will remain 272, fresh delimitation would affect Punjab which will lose up to nine seats in the lower house. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will get five new seats, Balochistan three and Islamabad Capital Territory one additional seat. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) will retain its 12 seats in the assembly.
The issue of conducting fresh delimitation of constituencies had been stuck in deadlock for several days till the CCI had on Monday finally agreed to hold the elections on the basis of the provisional census results on the condition that a third-party audit of one per cent of the population blocks would be conducted within three months. It was on PPP’s demand that the government had convened the CCI meeting realising that the ruling party does not have the required two-thirds majority in the 104-member Senate to get the bill passed.
The government also agreed to the MQM’s demand that their concerns over the census and the agreement reached between them should have a mention in the amendment bill and for that purpose the law minister changed the wordings of the “Statement of Objects and Reasons” attached to the bill.
Independent MNA from Muzaffargarh Jamshed Dasti was the lone member who opposed the amendment, suggesting that the number of seats of the assemblies should not be changed without the release of the official and final results of the census by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. He was of the view that the move could be challenged in a court of law.
The amended Statement of Objects and Reasons” of the bill reads: “The CCI in its meeting held on November 13, 2017 has approved publication of the provisional results of Census 2017 for purposes of Article 5l(5) as provided in this bill. The Council has also decided that third party validation will be carried out of one per cent census blocks proportionately in each province throughout the country selected by random computer ballot, before the final results are compiled. This will help address reservations and concerns expressed by the Sindh government, the PPP and the MQM regarding the provisional census results.”
However, later on the demand of the PTI and other parties, the draft was further amended, mentioning the names of all the other parties.
“The percentage of census blocks for which validation is to be carried out may change, if so decided by the CCI,” says the final draft of the law, which will now go to the Senate for its passage.
The government has already convened a session of the Senate on Friday (today) for this purpose.
Earlier, the National Assembly passed a bill to amend the Elections Act 2017 in order to restore a declaration for the voters regarding Khatm-i-Nabuwwat to its original form and make sections relating to the Ahmadi community more effective. Sections 7B and 7C of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002 were also restored to their original form through the bill.
Section 7B states that the status of Ahmadis remains as stated in the Constitution, whereas Section 7C says that if enrolled voters’ belief in the finality of prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) is contended, they shall have to sign a declaration reaffirming their belief, 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.”
Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2017