• 26th Constitution Amendment Bill passed unanimously by 282 members of treasury, opposition
• Bill provides for 12 NA, 24 KP assembly seats for people of erstwhile Fata
• ECP likely to delay polls for delimitation of constituencies
ISLAMABAD: In a rare show of unity, the treasury and opposition benches in the National Assembly on Monday unanimously passed the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill-2019 aimed at giving better representation to the people of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in the lower house of parliament and the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
While the NA standing committee on law and justice had recommended 16 provincial assembly seats for the erstwhile Fata, the bill passed by all members present in the house increased the tribal areas representation in KP Assembly to 24, indicating the requirement for further delimitation of the constituencies.
Moved by Mohsin Dawar, a lawmaker from the erstwhile Fata, this was the first-ever private member’s constitution amendment bill passed by the lower house of parliament in its parliamentary history. All previous constitution amendments had been made through government/treasury benches’ bills.
The bill was to be passed with the mandatory two-thirds majority of 282 members. Not a single vote was cast against it, while all the 282 members present in the house of 342 voted in favour of the bill.
Deviating from the past practice, Prime Minister Imran Khan, who also attended the session, congratulated the house including the opposition on the passage of the 26th constitution amendment bill and did not speak anything against the opposition leaders.
The bill turned down all recommendations of the standing committee on law and justice that had proposed elections on 12 national and 16 provincial assembly seats for the erstwhile Fata within a year from July 25, 2018. As the bill passed by the house provided the right to the people of the erstwhile Fata to elect their 12 representatives for the National Assembly and 24 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, it also extended the time set for elections.
Through an amendment, the time set for the elections was extended from one year to one-and-a-half years, because the increasing number of seats would require delimitation of constituencies.
The government and the opposition had remained at loggerheads since August 18, 2018 when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) came to power. It was for the first time in nine months that they showed unity on the issue of provision of due rights to the people of tribal districts.
The house also requested the provinces not to oppose slashing down of their three per cent share in National Finance Commission (NFC) award so that the money could be spent for provision of health, education, services and infrastructure in the war-torn tribal areas.
Interestingly, the National Assembly Secretariat (NAS) after Speaker Asad Qaiser’s meeting with opposition party leaders (which was held before the house proceedings) had announced that the session of the lower house would continue till May 24 because the government believed that the opposition’s response was not encouraging and the passage of the bill could take more days. However, the speaker prorogued the session following the passage of the bill.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has already announced schedule for the election on earlier recommended 16 seats of the erstwhile Fata for the KP Assembly. However, the commission will have to reschedule the polls, allowing the delimitation of constituencies according to the new shares of tribal district seats in the assemblies.
The proceedings of the lower house started at 12:30pm and an hour later PM Khan reached the house where he was warmly welcomed by the members of treasury benches. Throughout the proceedings, members of the ruling alliance came to his seat to meet him and discuss different matters.
Mr Khan, clad in a white shalwar kameez and black waistcoat, spoke after speeches of parliamentary party leaders and congratulated the entire house including the opposition on the passage of the bill. “I am glad the entire house is backing it [the bill] and all parties have reached consensus on its passage,” he said.
In his brief remarks, the PM asked all the provinces not to oppose the three per cent cut in their shares in NFC so that Rs100 billion annually could be provided to the people of ex-Fata for next 10 years.
He said the destruction faced by the people of tribal areas due to the war-like situation required ample development funds which the KP government alone could not provide. “The whole Pakistan should have to play its due role and provinces should chip in their funds for the people of the tribal areas,” he added.
Referring to the 1971 disintegration of Pakistan when West Pakistan, now called Bangladesh, was severed from Pakistan, the PM said the fall of Dhaka occurred due to the sense of deprivation prevailing among the people of West Pakistan. “There should not be such sense of deprivation in any part of the country, including Balochistan, because the enemies always exploit such situations,” he said.
“People from none of the provinces or part of the country should have the feeling that people of Pakistan do not care them,” he said, adding that as East Germany had supported the uplift of West Germany after unification, people of Pakistan have to help the people of less developed and remote areas.
Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi lauded the rare solidarity showed by the government and opposition and said: “Pakistan needs consensus of opposition and the government on all important issues facing the country.”
He said there was consensus on the government’s decision to provide Rs100 billion funds to the people of the tribal areas for 10 years to stimulate development in the region.
However, he said modalities for funding to erstwhile Fata should be determined to ensure that the people of tribal areas were given equal rights and resources when compared to other citizens of Pakistan.
Mr Abbasi was of the opinion that the number of seats given to the tribal districts would have its effects on the overall politics in the country.
Religious Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said PM Khan had always supported the people of tribal areas: “He [PM] was the one who first opposed action of Nato forces in tribal areas and drone strikes.”
Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party gave credit to the PPP founding leaders for whatever they could do to benefit the people of tribal areas.
While referring to the government-opposition tussle, the PPP lawmaker asked how long the tension between the two sides would continue and urged both sides to work jointly to solve problems being faced by the people of the country.
Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N expressed concern over the recent terrorist attack over on a luxury hotel in Gwadar and said it was a bid to sabotage the much ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. “Shortly before this attack, another incident had taken place on the Makran Coastal Highway. But the government did not take lesson and another attack took place at the hotel,” he added.
Maulana Wasay of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) criticised the government for what he called withdrawing the security of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
Responding to the criticism, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his [Maulana’s] security had not been withdrawn though the number of security vehicles and personnel had been reduced. “We cannot afford 30 vehicles on the security of an individual,” he added.
South Punjab, housing plan
Earlier, two separate bills were tabled in the house on the issues of carving out a separate province from Punjab and formation of a housing authority for Naya Pakistan housing scheme.
Makhdoom Samiul Hassan Gillani introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill seeking the creation of a separate province of southern Punjab.
Naya Pakistan Housing Authority Bill-2019 was tabled to establish the authority to implement the Prime Minister’s plan to build and provide five million low-cost houses in different parts of the country to the needy people.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2019