The government introduced the 24th constitutional amendment bill in the Senate on Friday, seeking bifurcation of Punjab through the creation of a ‘Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab’ province.
But the move did not sit well with opposition lawmakers from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who left the proceedings in a huff. The move also agitated the government’s allies, who have reservations over the bill.
The bill was tabled by Law Minister Farooq H Naek, apparently against the rules of business, as it was not on the day’s agenda.
“I know you are going to cut Punjab into pieces, but at least follow the rules by including it on the agenda,” said PML-N Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah before staging a walkout from the house.
Be that as it may, the bill has been sent to the bipartisan standing committee, which will debate and send it back within 10 days to put it to vote in the upper house of Parliament. If the government manages to approve the bill in the committee, a final showdown will be on the floor of the House. The government needs 69 ‘ayes’ in the 104-member house.
Without PML-N, which has a sizeable number in the National Assembly, it will be almost impossible for the government to pass any such amendment. Even if it is passed by both the houses of Parliament with a two-thirds majority, the bill will have to be passed by the Punjab Assembly, where the PML-N is the ruling party, before it could be signed into law by the president.
According to election commission figures, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has 41 members in the Senate, PML-N has 14, ANP has 12, PML-Q has five, MQM has seven, JUI-F has seven, while National Party and PML-F have one each, while there are 12 independents.
When contacted by The Express Tribune, government allies MQM and PML-Q confirmed that they were ready to support the bill if it was put to vote. On the other hand, ANP and BNP-Awami vowed to oppose the bill. Independent lawmakers, mostly from FATA, are divided over the issue. In the current scenario, the government could get around 53 ‘ayes’ while it would need another 16 votes either by cajoling dissenting allies or winning over FATA members to secure the required numbers.
Earlier, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Ishaq Dar also objected to the tabling of the bill, saying the government had not done proper homework before making the move. “This drama is on the basis of a flimsy report of the commission [on new provinces, headed by Senator Farhatullah Babar]. It is not the solution to any problem,” he said. “The commission did not address any important issue, including the distribution of water, assets and debts of the province. These key issues need to be addressed before bringing forth an amendment.”
Chairman Nayyar Bokhari said all these reservations should be discussed at the committee’s meeting and that there was enough time for brainstorming.
Additionally, the chairman referred the bill to the concerned committee for further discussion. He directed the committee to present its report within 10 days.
Other walk outs
Senators belonging to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman) also walked out of the house, protesting against the enforcement of governor’s rule in Balochistan.
Separately, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani also walked out. He was incensed by the attitude of the Senate Secretariat which did not present the report on missing persons, prepared by the special parliamentary committee.
To this, Chairman Bokhari said he would examine the issue and find out why the report was not presented.
“You should not only examine the issue but also direct the secretariat to present the report immediately. I am walking out of the house against this attitude,” said Senator Rabbani.
Senator Dar said the report had already been tabled in the National Assembly, and said there was no harm in presenting in the upper house. “This is in contempt of the committee and of this august house,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2013.