The 18th and after

by Mir Jamilur Rahman

The successful passage of the 18th Amendment in the National Assembly has proved that our politicians of different shades can work together if the goal is political stability and national harmony. It was a considerable achievement considering the fact that the PPP, the largest party in the National Assembly, with 124 members, faces a shortfall of 50 votes to command even a simple majority. However, for ordinary legislation “all decisions of the National Assembly shall be taken by the majority of the members present and voting.” According to this proviso the government needs only one-fourth of the total membership (86 MNAs) to carry out the legislative business. A number less than 86 would invite a quorum objection, obliging the Speaker to suspend the proceedings.

The number of votes required for the passage of a constitutional amendment is considerably higher. It has to be passed by the “votes of not less than two-thirds of the total membership of the House.” Thus, the minimum requirement for the a successful passage would be 228 votes in the National Assembly NA and 67 votes in the Senate. It is for good reason that the procedure for amending the Constitution has been made relatively difficult. The Constitution, 73 is the basic document of the state, was made promulgated by an elected assembly with the consensus of the provinces. Therefore, it becomes essential for the sake of provincial harmony that constitutional bills are backed by provincial consensus. The Special Committee had representation from all the provinces. The constitutional package that it recommended to the National Assembly NA had the consensus of all the provinces.

The military dictators, Zia and Musharraf, made fun of the Constitution 1973 by amending it at will. Zia had publicly said that he considered the constitution a piece of paper, which he could throw away at his own sweet will. They both had disfigured the Constitution 73 beyond recognition. It was the promise of the PPP and other political parties that they will restore the Constitution to its original form. Once the Senate passes this bill, this promise will stand fulfilled. The stinking amendments made by Zia and Musharraf will stand repealed, bringing back the fragrance of Constitution 73.

For the successful passage of the constitutional amendment in the NA National Assembly, the government needed 228 votes, which it collected with apparent ease. In the Senate the government might face difficulties in securing two-thirds votes of the total number of votes, which comes to 66 votes. However, no party in the Senate is in a position to block the amendment. Moreover, the senators will vote for the amendments as their party colleagues have done in the National Assembly.

The issue of provincial autonomy often crops up, giving rise to acrimony between Islamabad and the provinces and Islamabad. The present government has given serious thought for to the solution of this recurring problem. The removal of the Concurrent Legislative List is the first tangible step towards provincial autonomy. It gives the provinces exclusive right to legislate on 47 subjects enumerated in the Concurrent List. It does reduce the number of subjects from the federal jurisdiction.

But the Centre is still left with the Federal Legislative List of 67 subjects, which include taxes and duties of various kinds. It also includes fearful subject like “migration from or into, or settlement in, a province or the Federal Capital.” It gives federal government the constitutional right to control the movement of the population within the country. For instance, it could make laws to organise and control the migration of people to the overcrowded cities.

By restoring the Constitution Pakistan has taken an important step forwards to national cohesion. It bodes well for democracy if the Constitution is applied in letter and spirit.

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