Cabinet approves fresh delimitation of constituencies

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Wednesday decided to conduct fresh delimitation of constituencies and said the proposed increase in the number of seats of the national and provincial assemblies would be decided in parliament.

The issue of an increase in the number of legislatures’ seats was thoroughly discussed in the second consecutive meeting of the cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

“The meeting decided to introduce a bill in the National Assembly ‘that the house may consider proposed increase in the number of seats in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies’ because parliament is the best forum to decide the matter,” a cabinet member told Dawn after the meeting.

Proposed increase in number of assemblies’ seats to be decided in parliament

According to an official press release, the cabinet decided to place the delimitation bill before the National Assembly for debate and consideration. Earlier, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics gave a presentation to the cabinet on the recently-conducted census. The delimitation of constituencies of national and provincial assemblies is mandatory under the fresh census.

“We will present zero-proposal bill on the basis of fresh census to let parliament decide whether the seats of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies should be increased or not,” the cabinet member said.

The member said the prime minister had sought opinion from each member of the cabinet and was of the view that the issue should be debated in parliament so that whatever decision taken by it could be implemented.

He said that since a constitutional amendment was required with a two-thirds majority to increase the number of the seats, the matter should be decided with consensus. “The government does not want to propose anything on it because if it does so, people will say it has already prepared its mind on the issue,” he added.

“If parliament agrees to enhance the number of seats, we will discuss options how to make it.”

At the last cabinet meeting, the prime minister had sought suggestions from the cabinet members on the proposed increase in the number of seats of parliament on the basis of provisional results of the population census-2017. A majority of the cabinet members opposed the idea of increasing the number of general seats in the National Assembly from 272, terming it unnecessary under the present political and economic situation. A few cabinet members, however, were of the view that the number of seats should be increased to 300, keeping in view the massive increase in the country’s population.

At present there are 272 general seats and 70 reserved for women and minorities in the 342-member National Assembly. The increase in the number of seats of the national and provincial assemblies was last made by former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf before the 2002 general elections. The seats were increased through an amendment to the Constitution, which was later endorsed by parliament through the 17th Constitution Amendment.

Under the laws, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is empowered to carry out delimitation of constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies as well as local bodies. However, a fresh legislation is required to allow the ECP to do so on the basis of the census results.

The next elections are scheduled to be held on May 31. The ECP has already warned the government that the time is running out for fresh delimitation of constituencies ahead of the 2018 elections and that it will not be possible for the commission to carry out the exercise in a short period since the final results of the census are expected to be announced sometime in April next year. The ECP has also warned that legality of the general elections without delimitation could be questioned.

Political experts see the cabinet decision on the delimitation of constituencies as an apparent move to settle the controversy over the census data by the Sindh government and some political parties.

In August, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) had approved the provisional results of the sixth census that put the country’s population at 207.77 million with an annual growth rate of 2.4 per cent.

The cabinet approved the establishment of a drug court in Quetta and appointment of Justice Aftab Ahmed Gorar as Judge Special of Appellate Court under Section 46(1) of the Prevention of Smuggling Act, 1977, in Sindh. It also approved the appointment of the information technology secretary as chairman of the Management Board of National Telecommunication Corporation.

The cabinet also assented to the reconstitution of the Board of Governors of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC). It accorded ex-post facto approval to initiate negotiations and for signing of an agreement on scientific exchange and cooperation between PARC and Lanzhou University of China.

Proposed amendments to the Rules of Origin under the Malaysia-Pakistan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement were also approved.

The cabinet approved the signing of an MoU between the government of Mozambique and the government of Pakistan in defence domain. It accorded approval to the signing of Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to taxes on income between Pakistan and Bulgaria.

The cabinet also approved extension in deputation period of Mr Bebu Ram, deputy chief engineer of Sui Southern Gas Company Limited, Karachi.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2017