ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to introduce a new bill to increase the number of seats for minorities in parliament, in proportion to their population.
The move is expected to enhance representation for minorities in the National Assembly, Senate and provincial assemblies.
If the government succeeds in getting the proposed bill passed in the shape of the 23rd Constitutional Amendment with a two-thirds majority, minorities’ seats would increase from 33 to around 53 in the National and provincial assemblies. The same exercise would also be followed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
State Minister for National Harmony Akram Masih Gill said there was a strong likelihood that the bill would be passed in the National Assembly and Senate in the session starting from next week.
“We are hopeful about it. Members of minority community should keep their fingers crossed,” Gill told The Express Tribune.
Gill and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Minorities Affairs Dr Paul Bhatti have already given their input to the government for the proposed bill.
Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has assigned Pakistan Peoples Party chief whip in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Shah, the task of convincing political parties to get the bill passed with a two-thirds majority in the upcoming sessions.
Non-Muslims represent 4.5 % of the country’s total population of 180 million, according to working papers of both minority leaders. Therefore, the total number of minorities’ seats will increase from 33 to around 53, out of which 16 seats will be added in the NA, 12 in the Punjab Assembly, 13 in the Sindh Assembly and six each in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan assemblies.
Currently, there are 10 minority seats in the NA, nine in the Sindh Assembly, eight in the Punjab Assembly, and three each in K-P Assembly and Balochistan Assembly.
The federal cabinet had already passed this bill in July this year.
Although the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz sees the move as a positive step, it has some reservations given that the government did not consult them before endorsing the newly proposed bill in the federal cabinet.
“Yes, it’s a good move,” said PML-N Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah. The PML-N is likely to not oppose the bill but its top leadership will prepare a note/output to make the process more democratic, he said.
Regarding legal complications, Shah said if this newly proposed bill is passed with a two-thirds majority, some rules would be observed as two Constitutional Amendments – the 21st Amendment (creation of new provinces) and 22nd Amendment (dual nationality) – are still pending with parliament.
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid senior leader SM Zafar sees the move as a victory for minorities, who, according to him, are the “true face of Pakistan.”
Senior politicians recalled that parliament saw an increase in minorities’ seats during General Ziaul Haq’s regime, before which only two seats were fixed for minorities. Zia increased reserved seats for minorities from two to 10.
Minorities, for the first time, were given representation in the Senate this year.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2012.