In the light of the newly-conducted census, the National Assembly will see a re-composition in its provincial makeup, but will retain its strength of 272 members, leaders of the parliamentary parties in the lower house of parliament agreed in a meeting held on Tuesday.
The meeting, chaired by National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, decided that the number of seats for Punjab will decrease by nine, which will add to the strength of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while an additional seat will be allocated to Islamabad.
The federal cabinet had referred the delimitation bill to parliament on October 25, in which the issue of an increase in the number of seats was thoroughly discussed, following which the bill was referred to parliament for debate and discussion.
After the meeting, the NA speaker confirmed that the parliamentary leaders had decided in principle to retain the seats of the National Assembly. Speaking of the details, he said the number of seats would remain the same, but there would be a change in the allocation of seats for the provinces. He further said the data for delimitation at tehsil level would be received on Wednesday (today) and another meeting would be held.
According to the draft of the delimitation bill, Punjab will cede nine seats, including seven general and two reserved for women. Of the nine seats, four general seats and one reserved for women will go to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while Balochistan will see an increase of two general seats and one for women. There will be one additional seat for the Islamabad Capital Territory while Sindh and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) will see no change to their strength. Currently, the ICT has two seats which would now become three.
All this means the lower house will keep its 272 general seats. There are 60 seats reserved for women and 10 for minorities which are allocated to the parties according to their strength in the house after general election.
The NA speaker told media that the decision to swap seats among the provinces was taken after knowing the time constraints faced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for preparing for the general elections due next year. “We want election to be held on time,” he said.
On Thursday (tomorrow), legislation for delimitation would be made in the National Assembly which will then be passed on to the Senate, he said, adding: “We are trying to get it done by Friday, and will then present it [bill] in the Senate.”
Sadiq said the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) wanted delimitation of constituencies on the basis of number of votes instead of population. However, it was decided that the delimitation would be made in accordance with the population.
MQM-P leader Dr Farooq Sattar said his party reluctantly agreed to the proposal despite having reservation on it. He added that his party reserved the rights to challenge these developments at any appropriate forum.
Opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) told reporters after the meeting that ECP officials had made it clear that if the legislation for delimitation was not enacted within a week, it would be difficult for them to hold election on time.
According to Shah, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) believes there would be a difference of around 2% in the provisional and final census results. Since final results are still being compiled, a constitutional amendment was needed for delimitation on the basis of the provisional census results.
The meeting was also attended by Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Akram Durrani of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Mehmood Khan Achackzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and others.
The final results of the census have not been released yet and are expected to be announced sometime in April next year. Since the next general elections are scheduled for May, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will not have enough time to carry out the delimitation process in such a short time.
The ECP has already warned the government that time is running out for fresh delimitation of constituencies ahead of the 2018 elections and had also said that legality of the general elections without delimitation could be questioned.
Tuesday’s meeting was called after the ECP had given a seven-day deadline to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs to get the Constitution amended to provide legal cover to fresh delimitation before the final results of population census last week.
The Constitution stipulates that the ECP can revamp the constituencies only after census data is officially notified. The new election laws say that the ECP has to finalise the polling scheme – and delimitations – at least six months before the general elections.