ISLAMABAD -  The government on Friday deferred introducing the 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2017, in the Senate, which seeks to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies, due to the thin presence of lawmakers for a two-thirds majority is required to pass any constitutional amendment.

However, the house unanimously passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2017, that restored oath for voters regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwat, the finality of prophethood, to its original form and made the law about electoral reforms more effective regarding the status of Ahmadi community as non-Muslim and compilation of their separate voter lists.

At one time, there were maximum 58 senators present in the 104-member house, less than the required two-thirds majority to pass the constitutional amendment as 40 senators remained absent and six were on leave.

Though all parliamentary parties had a consensus on the 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2017, that was passed by the National Assembly on Thursday to pave the way for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies ahead of the next general elections on the basis of provisional census results, all members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf were absent from the Senate in a hurriedly summoned session. Most of Fata lawmakers as well as around half members of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan also did not turn up in the house. In addition, some members of Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz also remained absent. Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, therefore, deferred the constitutional amendment bill until Monday.

The issue of conducting fresh delimitation of constituencies faced a deadlock for several days until the Council of Common Interests (CCI) finally agreed to hold fresh delimitations on the condition that a third-party audit of one percent of the population blocks would be carried out within three months.

Earlier, the house passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2017, to restore the declaration/oath of the voters regarding Khatm-i-Nabuwat to its original form. The bill that was also passed by the National Assembly the other day restored sections 7B and 7C of the Conduct of General Elections Order, 2002, to their original form. 

Section 7B states the status of Ahmadis would remain the same (non-Muslims) as stated in the Constitution of Pakistan. Section 7C says enrolled voters shall have to sign a declaration to reaffirm his belief in the finality of the prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), failing which his/her name shall be deleted from the joint electoral rolls and added to a supplementary list of voters in the same electoral area as non-Muslim.

The Section 48 A of the Elections (Amendment) Act 2017 says if a person has got himself enrolled as a voter and objection is filed before the revising authority that such voter is not a Muslim, he shall have to appear before it within 15 days to sign a declaration reaffirming his belief on the absolute and unqualified finality of the prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). The law says that in case the voter doesn’t turn up in spite of service of a notice, an ex-parte order may be passed against him.

Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Sirajul Haq objected that the previous law mentioned the Electoral Rolls Rules, 1974, to prepare separate electoral rolls of Ahmadis, but this has been omitted in the proposed law. He said deletion of these words may affect the procedure of preparation of separate electoral rolls for the Ahmadi community.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid explained that Electoral Rolls Rules, 1974, has been revoked and cannot affect preparation of separate rolls, on which the JI chief supported the bill.

Leader of Opposition Senator Aitzaz Ahsan made a very convincing speech which was applauded from both sides of the aisle. He said every Muslim believes in the finality of the prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), but he has objection to the way the law is being passed by the Parliament under extreme pressure and in the atmosphere of fear from the protesters of the religious parties that were staging a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange. He averred this practice would encourage other pressure groups to come, hold sit-ins and pressurise the Parliament to pass the laws of their own choice.

Senator Ahsan also raised objections to the clause regarding Section 7C that was inserted through Section 48A of the Elections Amendment Bill. He said the previous rules regarding electoral rolls only allowed the filing of objections to the faith of a voter within10 days after the finalisation of electoral rolls. Under the proposed law, the objection could be filed anytime and this will open a new Pandora box, he said, adding hundreds of people will come out in the next general elections to file objections against electoral candidates questioning their faith on the basis of this provision in the law. “This practice will not stop, you cannot imagine what will happen before next polls,” he said, adding the blasphemy law was already being misused in Pakistan.

He also lashed out at the protesters and said Faizabad had become a point of trouble for the future as a group would gather there to pressurise the Parliament to declare other sects as infidels. He asserted the writ of the government could not be seen anywhere during the sit-in. “I am satisfied to vote for the bill, but worried about the circumstances, atmosphere, and pressure under which the vote was being sought from the Parliament,” he said.