Delimitation bill: Govt in intense lobbying for two-thirds majority in Senate

PML-N insiders claim support of 60 senators for legislation vital for timely election

Sardar Sikander December 10, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Amid opposition from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), intense lobbying is under way by the ruling party to secure a two-thirds majority in the upper house of parliament in order to get the crucial bill on constituencies delimitation cleared.

The Senate is expected to take up the constitutional amendment bill in its upcoming session, starting tomorrow (Monday). Sources in the ruling camp claim they have secured ‘at least 60 votes’ in favour of the bill – 10 short of 70 who form the two-thirds strength in the 104-strong house.

Draft for delimitation of constituencies finalised by house leadership

After Senator Babar Awan stepped down and left the PPP to join the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has become the majority party in the Senate with 27 seats, followed by the PPP’s 26.

A PML-N senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that the ruling camp had managed to garner support of 60 senators in favour of the new delimitation bill.

They included 10 independents, eight from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), five from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), three each from the National Party and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), two from the Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A) and one each from the PML-Functional and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), said the senator.

In addition, six senators from the Awami National Party (ANP) would vote for the government bill, while some senators from the PTI – the government’s most formidable political foe – had also assured their support, he claimed.

In such a scenario, the number of government votes in the Senate in favour of the delimitation bill may exceed 70 to meet the desired two-thirds majority.

However, another senior PML-N leader painted a different scenario. “The picture is not as rosy as being projected,” he said, adding that securing a two-thirds majority at a time when the ruling party faced serious internal divisions would be a challenge.

“There are dissident elements in our party who are waiting for the right time to part ways with the PML-N. Will all of our 27 senators vote for the bill? I really doubt that,” he said. “Some may abstain from voting and some may skip the related session on any pretext, as happened before.”

The senator referred to a previous vote count in the National Assembly on a crucial bill that the opposition had moved to stop Nawaz Sharif from heading the PML-N after being disqualified by the Supreme Court.

Though the government had managed to defeat the bill with a simple majority, it could only secure 163 votes despite the fact that the PML-N alone has 188 members while the ruling coalition comprises 240 members. As many as 25 PML-N lawmakers did not attend that NA session.

“If more than two dozens of our party members could skip such a crucial National Assembly session, we should not expect that all of our senators and our allies as well as other political parties would vote for the bill [in the Senate],” a PML-N source said.

The source decried lack of support mainly from the PPP in the Senate because of political reasons. “The PTI, on the other hand, may not follow the PPP policy and it could vote either in favour of the bill or avoid participating in the voting process. Either way, it would help — given that a mainstream opposition party did not oppose the bill.”

According to the source, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is taking ‘personal’ interest in getting the bill passed and has asked the PML-N senators to make sure that “no one goes out of country or skips the related Senate session on any pretext”.

Despite supporting the constituencies’ delimitation bill in the NA and having it passed, the PPP is opposing it in the Senate. Recently, reports have done rounds that the PPP wants to strike an underhand deal with the PML-N government to secure some seats in the coming Senate election.

The Senate election is due in March 2018. The PPP also wants to secure some seats from south Punjab in general elections scheduled next year.

CCI set to discuss delimitation law on November 13

Reports also suggest PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari wants concrete assurances from the government that his sister Faryal Talpur would be elevated as the next Senate chairperson. In return, the PPP would support the government on constituencies’ delimitation bill and other political issues.

PML-N Chairman and Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq has denied any possibility of a deal with the PPP or any other political party. He said legislation on constituencies’ delimitation in the light of census 2017 was in the national interest to avoid any delay in general elections.

“Those opposing this legislation are not doing any service to the nation. This will harm democracy. The PML-N does not need to get into backdoor deal with anyone. We have sufficient support in the Senate to get any bill passed and we will mobilise this support,” he told The Express Tribune when contacted by telephone on Saturday.

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