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In its last days, little zest in NA over minority seats

March 07, 2013

A view of the National Assembly. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: In its waning days, the National Assembly seemed left with little zeal to give more seats to non-Muslim minorities as it failed to take up an enabling constitution amendment on Thursday that had been on its agenda for two weeks.

It was no surprise that Law Minister Farooq H. Naek was found absent from his seat when house Speaker Fehmida Mirza called for taking up the Constitution (Twenty-third Amendment) Bill because the 342-seat house did have at least 228 supporters, or two-thirds of its membership, required to pass a constitution amendment.

The legislation seeking to increase the reserved seats for minorities in the National Assembly by four to 14, by three to 12 in the Sindh provincial assembly, by two to 10 in the Punjab assembly and one each to four each in the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan assemblies.

It had been on the agenda of the present session, which began on Feb 18, for two weeks but was not taken up for consideration owing to lack of numbers despite claimed assurances of support from all political parties represented in the house.

Hectic moves appeared to have been made on Wednesday by the Pakistan People’s Party and its coalition allies to assemble the required numbers on Thursday to pass the bill before the last session of the house, which runs out its five-year term on March 16, concludes on Tuesday.

But that could not happen, prompting protests by a couple of non-Muslim lawmakers, including the Minister of State for National Harmony, Akram Masih Gill, who staged a walkout.

But while PPP benches were well-attended, the main culprits seemed to be the Pakistan Muslim League-N and PML-Q, to which Mr Gill belongs.

That situation held out little hope in the lower house for another constitution amendment bill that the government managed to get through the 104-seat Senate, with two-third support, on Wednesday to provide for the creation of the Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab province.

While no other party responded to Mr Gill’s complaint about the absence of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali and parliamentary leaders of all other parties from the house, a repartee came from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Wasim Akhtar, who said the attendance of his party’s 25-member parliamentary group was much better than the PML-Q’s 50-strong.

The only reassurance in a dismal situation came from the chair, then held by PPP’s Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor: “I hope the situation will be better tomorrow.”

Mr Gill, a Christian, who said assurances for support to the bill had come from all parties, asked the parties: “Do you want not to give them (minorities) their political right?”