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Tariq Butt
Monday, January 28, 2013
From Print Edition
 
 

 

ISLAMABAD: Without holding public meetings, both the major political parties – the PML-N and the PPP – are engaged in a vigorous election campaign, with one sponsoring a protest sit-in and the other moving a constitutional amendment bill in parliament — to garner support in the upcoming grand electoral contest.

 

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan is not lagging behind his rivals, and has announced, after being impressed with Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march, to sponsor a historic protest if the caretaker prime minister was nominated unilaterally.

 

However, he declared on Sunday that he would participate in any sit-in, which was aimed at strengthening the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), but would not be part of the PML-N’s protest.

 

Although the ECP has been armed with unprecedented powers, sanctioned by the unanimously approved constitutional amendments, yet the PML-N has decided to stage during the current week the sit-in in front of parliament for a stronger and more independent ECP.

 

The move is meant to galvanise political support and reinforce electoral cooperation among the key opposition forces, which recently gathered at Nawaz Sharif’s Raiwind farmhouse to reject Dr Qadri’s long march and demands.

 

All these political parties are likely to participate in the sit-in with the Jamaat-e-Islami having already declared that it would fully support the protest.

 

The sit-in is provoked by Dr Qadri’s stinging attack on the ECP and is intended to give a message to this constitutional forum that it should proceed with full confidence and with the full support of the opposition forces.

 

However, Dr Qadri’s demand to scrap the ECP already stands nailed as it has been universally concluded that the constitutional body can’t be dispensed with through any constitutional and legal tool. The ruling alliance’s similar view is bolstered by the unquestionable opinion of all the constitutional experts named in the Islamabad Long March Declaration (ILMD).

 

On the face of it, the primary reason for organising the sit-in is the PML-N’s deep urge to formalise an electoral alliance with all the opposition parties to win the parliamentary polls.

 

If the PML-N’s initiative has its own objectives to achieve, the ruling alliance has proceeded in top gear to give final touches to the constitutional bill to carve a new province out of Punjab although it knows very well that it will be an exercise in futility.

 

President Asif Ali Zardari’s remark that he made when he recently visited Multan to appease the estranged former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani cannot be turned into reality as the ruling parties do not have two-thirds majority in parliament to pass this amendment. In view of this determination, the moving of the bill in the legislature is just a political gimmick to elicit support from the Seraiki belt and put the PML-N, which is opposed to Punjab’s division in its present form, in a tight spot.

 

By tabling the bill in parliament, the PPP would tell the electorate of the south Punjab that it did make honest efforts to fight for their rights and give them an independent voice in the Federation, but the PML-N aborted the effort and should be rejected in the upcoming general elections.

 

However, even if the new constitutional bill is passed by parliament, it can’t be enacted under the Constitution because it has to be passed by a two-thirds majority of the Punjab Assembly before it will be presented to the President of Pakistan for assent.

 

While the ruling coalition is in no mood to pay even slight heed to the all-important but toothless proposed accountability law, which is to replace the present National Accountability Bureau Ordinance, to get it approved from parliament through a simple majority that it has, it has undertaken a tough task of amending the Constitution. The reason is simple: it hopes to get political dividends due to this initiative but expects no benefits by passing the accountability bill.

 

While there have been no powerful demands for creating a province comprising the Seraiki belt, forceful calls have frequently emerged for the revival of the Bahawalpur state that the ruling coalition has deliberately ignored. In its own way, it has tried to accommodate these sentiments by adding the name of Bahawalpur to the new province, which hardly makes any sense because it will not satisfy those airing this demand.

 

Clause 4 of Article 239 of the Constitution prescribes the procedure to have new provinces. It says a bill to amend the Constitution, which would have the effect of altering the limits of a province, shall not be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the provincial assembly concerned by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.

 

Thus, even after its passage in the two Houses of Parliament, such a bill would have to be approved by the provincial assembly concerned with 2/3 majority before its presentation to the president.

 

This clause makes no mention of any parliamentary commission, which, formed by the speaker under the chairmanship of Senator Farhatullah Babar, has prepared the draft of the constitutional amendment bill. The provision also doesn’t talk about any role of the president or his reference.

 

The commission was constituted in pursuance of a reference sent to the speaker by Zardari, which was read out in the National Assembly last year in the wake of a resolution passed by the assembly, and two motions approved by the Punjab legislature, which were jointly sponsored by the PPP and PML-N. However, later the PML-N, dominating the Punjab Assembly, passed a resolution rejecting the parliamentary commission.