ISLAMABAD: For the first time in the country’s parliamentary history, a women’s seat will be reserved for the federal capital in the National Assembly. The government on Wednesday introduced a constitutional amendment in the lower house of parliament seeking an increase in the number of seats reserved for women.

Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Maleeka Bukhari introduced the bill on behalf of Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem, which was then referred to the concerned standing committee by Speaker Asad Qaiser for further deliberations.

When it passes through the lower house, the bill will go to the Senate for approval. The support of two-third members in both the houses is required for the passage of a constitutional amendment bill.

Govt tables constitutional amendment to increase women’s reserved seats from 60 to 61

The present PTI-led coalition government does not have a two-thirds majority in either houseand will have to seek the support of opposition parties, including PML-N and PPP.

However, it seems the government will succeed in getting support for the bill from women legislators belonging to opposition parties.

“I don’t think we will oppose the bill,” said PPP vice president and the party’s parliamentary leader in Senate, Sherry Rehman.

She said the government should have taken them into confidence before moving such an important piece of legislation.

However, she expressed hope that parties would get a chance to discuss the issue when the bill comes before parliamentary committees for scrutiny.

The bill seeks amendments to various clauses and sub-clauses to Article 51 of the Constitution which describes the allocation of general seats for the provinces and reserved seats in the National Assembly.

The present assembly consists of 342 members - 272 general seats, 60 reserved for women and 10 for minorities.

However, after the formal merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the number of Fata seats in the National Assembly will be reduced and the total membership of the assembly will come down to 336 from 342.

With the addition of another reserved seat for women, the total strength of the assembly will be 337, according to the draft of the amendment bill.

The bill’s statement of objects and reasons says that under Article 1 of the Constitution, “the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) is a separate entity. Under Article 25(3), the State can make special provision for protection of women.

“The present government believes in emancipation of women and is in favour of giving a seat to women in the National Assembly for ICT to bring the women at par with other federating units.”

The related article of the Constitution states that “the members to the seats reserved for women which are allocated to a province under clause (3) shall be elected in accordance with law through proportional representation system of political parties’ lists of candidates on the basis of total number of general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly: provided that for the purpose of this paragraph the total number of general seats won by a political party shall include the independent returned candidate or candidates who may duly join such political party within three days of the publication in the official Gazette of the names of the returned candidates.”

Legal and political experts say the implementation of this article in the case of Islamabad will be difficult as Islamabad only has three general seats and if three different parties win in the capital, the question will be as to how this one seat will be allotted.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019