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NA Speaker to form commission on new provinces

July 12, 2012

ISLAMABAD, July 11: A parliamentary process to create up to two new provinces from Punjab province moved a step further on Wednesday with the National Assembly authorising its speaker to name a commission to propose demarcation of and allocation of parliamentary seats and resources to the proposed units.

The move, likely to provoke heated debates inside and outside of parliament ahead of the next election, came after a message from President Asif Ali Zardari was read out by Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi calling for the constitution of the 14-member commission to implement, by amending the Constitution, two resolutions passed in May by the lower house and the Punjab assembly.

The May 3 National Assembly resolution, sponsored by the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party, had demanded the creation of what it called “Janoobi Punjab” province in southern Punjab — avoiding the originally proposed name of “Seraiki province” of Seraiki-speaking districts of southern Punjab. And the subsequent provincial assembly resolution, which was supported by both the provincially ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N and the opposition PPP, called for the creation of “Janoobi Punjab” as well as revival of an earlier status of Bahawalpur division as a province.

The presidential message said the commission must comprise six members each from the National Assembly and Senate, to be nominated by the assembly speaker and Senate chairman respectively, and two from the Punjab assembly to be nominated by its speaker.

“The commission shall look into the issues relating to the fair distribution of economic and financial resources, demarcation, allocation/readjustment of seats in the National Assembly, Senate and the concerned provincial assembly and allocation of seats in the new province on the basis of population, including seats of minorities and women, and other constitutional, legal and administrative matters,” it said.

It said the commission must submit its report to the National Assembly speaker as well as to the prime minister within 30 days of its notification in the official gazette which, it added, would be followed by the initiation of the process of amendment to the Constitution, including relevant articles 1 (2), 51, 59 and 106.

An amendment to the Constitution must be passed by a two-thirds majority both in the 342-seat National Assembly and 104-seat Senate – which the ruling coalition says it has in both houses. The process could become much easier if the PML-N too joins the move by adhering to the Punjab assembly resolution.

“We give you the power to constitute the commission,” PPP chief whip Khursheed Ahmed Shah said after the deputy speaker, who was chairing the house in the absence of Speaker Fehmida Mirza, read out the presidential message at the fag-end of the sitting and suggested that matter be taken up also with the Senate chairman and the Punjab assembly speaker.

No objection was raised before some lawmakers of the ruling coalition praised the move.

The PPP and its main allies -- Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party -- had originally demanded the creation of what it called a “Seraiki province” to alleviate alleged economic and political grievances of southern Punjab against the Lahore-based provincial administration.

But that name, which the PPP had also promised in its new election manifesto, was replaced in the National Assembly by “Janoobi Punjab”, probably to soften opposition from the PML-N, which says it favours creation of new provinces on administrative rather than linguistic or ethnic grounds.

An announcement from the presidency last month said the president had sent a reference to National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza for the creation of a commission on the new provinces. But, without an explanation, the move was delayed until Wednesday’s announcement in the house, apparently because of the government’s preoccupations with legal battles in the Supreme Court leading to last month’s disqualification by the court of then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

President Zardari had once promised to include the creation of a Seraiki province in the PPP’s next election manifesto, while Mr Gilani, who hails from the southern Punjab’s main city of Multan, had been predicting this to happen within the tenure of the present government that runs out in March next year.

Earlier, the house cut short its consideration of a bill already passed by the Senate during its second reading after a couple of PML-N members and one from the ANP sought clarification of the implications for provinces of the draft, which seeks what it called “the creation, development and efficient operation of special economic zones” to encourage domestic and foreign investors.

Mr Shah agreed to a deferment of the bill until Thursday, when the house will meet at 11am.