News Analysis |
On Thursday, the National Assembly passed the 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 by a resounding majority of 242:1. Putting an end to speculations of delay in elections, the unanimous legislation has cleared 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 the provisional census data.
The ECP had called upon the Parliament to pass the required bill before 10th November so as to ensure the timely conduct of the elections. Earlier this month, Railway Minister Saad Rafique asked opposition parties to cooperate on the passage of the amendment if they are interested in timely elections.
Senior anchorperson, Hamid Mir while talking to the political analyst, Dr. Moeed Pirzada, had said that the only hurdle in the timely conduct of elections would be the failure to pass the amendment.
FATA has to be brought into the mainstream and it is high time to undertake political and social reforms to improve the lives of those afflicted by constant conflict.
In a bid to relieve the concerns of the Mutahidda Quami Movement (MQM), the government agreed to increase the number of the auditable population census blocks from one to five percent. The MQM had decided not to support the bill if concerns are not addressed, something that the speaker, Ayaz Sadiq did in a meeting with Parliamentary leaders of the MQM, PPP, and PTI.
It was on Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s assurances that MQM voted for the bill. Abbasi said that the census issue would be again referred to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in order to approve MQM’s demand that a third-party audit of five percent population blocks.
At a time when consensus rather than confrontation was needed, lawmakers displayed cool-headedness, putting aside their bitter political differences. Farooq Sattar, the parliamentary leader of the MQM said the MQM wanted to open 10 percent of the population blocks, but other parties insisted on 5 percent and the MQM agreed to it in the larger national interest in order to ensure continuity of the democratic system and clear the way for timely elections. He also thanked the premier for addressing these concerns.
Railway Minister Saad Rafique asked opposition parties to cooperate on the passage of the amendment if they are interested in timely elections.
According to the Constitution, the ECP can rearrange the constituencies only if and when the census data is officially notified. The new election laws stipulate that the ECP has to finalize the polling scheme and delimitations at least six months before the general election.
272 seats in the National Assembly are up for grabs in the general elections out of which Punjab is allocated 148 seats. Sadiq said that after the passage of the Constitutional Amendment Bill, Punjab will lose 7 general seats, which will be distributed between KP, Balochistan and the Islamabad Capital Territory in the ratio of 4:2:1 respectively.
The National Assembly also comprises of 60 reserved seats for women and 10 for non-Muslims. Punjab’s allocation of 35 reserved seats will be cut by 2 with KP and Balochistan getting one each.
Plans to merge FATA into KP have not materialized. Watchers suggest that FATA must be given more representation as there is a need to remove it from the harsh Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). Unnecessary dithering over FATA reforms is against the military successes achieved in the area.
Military gains, if not backed up by political efforts will fail to produce the desired results in the long run. Experts believe that FATA has to be brought into the mainstream and it is high time to undertake political and social reforms to improve the lives of those afflicted by constant conflict.
Abbasi said that the census issue would be again referred to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in order to approve MQM’s demand that a third-party audit of five percent population blocks.
As elections are nearing, the removal of the impediment comes as a positive development in an otherwise fluid political environment. Keeping aside political squabbles, opposition parties accepted the amendment, something that they believe is necessary for the continuation of the democratic process. “We are a political party and we cannot afford a delay in holding of general elections,” Chief Minister Sindh, Murad Ali Shah said while adding that it is a bitter pill to swallow.
So, with the bill passed, the country is set to head for the elections in the summers of 2018. Who will go on to clinch the cup depends on very many factors, including the fate of the Sharif family and that of Imran Khan. Regardless, the country is in for interesting times.