The centre and the provinces on Monday reached a consensus on the need to enact legislation on delimitation of constituencies in the light of the latest census results, “averting a looming constitutional crisis”, according to the Prime Minister Office.
The development came at a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Four chief ministers, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and other senior officials also showed up at the huddle.
The interior minister attended the meeting in place of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar who is in London for “medical treatment”.
He said the CCI had given approval for carrying out legislation on delimitation of constituencies in the light of the provisional results of the population census 2017, and the final results would be issued later.
The spokesman cited Article 51(5) to state that legislation on delimitation of constituencies is to be done after the last census results are officially published.
“The seats in the National Assembly shall be allocated to each province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the federal capital on the basis of the population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published,” the said article reads.
The results of the population census were last published in 1998 when the headcount exercise was conducted.
To have the results of the census 2017 published, the federal government had contacted the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) which informed the government that the census results could be published not before the mid or end of April next year, according to Malik.
After the publication of the results, further official procedures would require at least five months (from April onwards) before the detailed census results could be issued, he said.
“We don’t have that much time to wait for the publication of the census results in order to carry out legislation on the constituencies’ delimitation given that the tenure of the present national and provincial governments ends on June 5, 2018. To tackle this situation, the CCI has decided to carry out legislation on the provisional results of the census,” the PM’s spokesman said.
He praised the role of the provincial governments in agreeing on the need to carry out the required legislation. “All the provincial governments show maturity and decide to support the federal government on this issue in the best national interests.”
Asked whether Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak stuck to his party’s demand for early elections during the CCI meeting, Malik said: ‘No such discussion whatsoever is held. The issue is not even mentioned in the meeting.”
Earlier, during the CCI meeting, PM Abbasi “personally” assured the chief ministers of Sindh and K-P to allay their reservations regarding the census results and “other matters”, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Reportedly, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah informed the prime minister that a significant chunk of population in Sindh, comprising voters of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was not covered in the census.
In addition, Shah is said to have raised the issue of delay in the release of development funds to PPP MNAs from Sindh which was brewing problems for the party ahead of the general elections.
“The K-P chief minister takes up the issue of Rs36 billion payable to the province by the centre under different heads,” insiders said.
During the last CCI meeting, the prime minister assured the K-P chief minister that the funds issue would be resolved soon with the release of pending funds to the province, which did not happen.
“In addition, Khattak also sought Abbasi’s support on the proposed merger of Fata with K-P which would necessitate creation of 23 additional seats in the K-P Assembly from Fata,” officials said.
This requires related legislation by the provincial assembly and parliament.
“PM Abbasi assured the two chief ministers of his complete support on the given issues before the two decided to support the federal government’s proposed legislation on the delimitation,” sources said.
The other two chief ministers – Shehbaz Sharif of Punjab and Sanaullah Zehri of Balochistan – are from the ruling party and have already supported the proposed legislation.
It requires a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass the related bill which would be moved in the National Assembly soon.
Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has called a meeting of the parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly on Wednesday to discuss the proposed legislation.
Meanwhile, the PM’s spokesman said the prime minister and the army chief recently visited forward areas where the premier announced Rs2 billion for troops deployed along the Line of Control (LoC) and Rs1.8 to Rs2 billion for civilian victims of Indian aggression.
“The prime minister has allocated Rs1 million each for the family of every martyr,” he said.
About the ongoing protests by a religious group against an earlier change in the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause in the Election Bill, 2017, in some parts of twin cities causing inconvenience to residents, Malik said: “The government is dealing with the issue, and it will be resolved in a few days.”
He, however, avoided sharing the specifics in this regard.