ISLAMABAD -  The Senate on Tuesday passed the much-awaited 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2017 with a majority vote seeking delimitation of constituencies and re-allocation of seats of the National Assembly, paving the way for timely conduct of the next general elections.

The bill was passed with 84 votes in favour and one vote of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) Senator Kamil Ali Agha against the constitutional amendment bill. The bill will enable the Election Commission of Pakistan to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies ahead of the next general elections on the basis of provisional census results. The bill could not get consensus from the house because of the single vote of PML-Q polled against it while all other parliamentary parties of the house voted in favour of it.

Later, Kamil Ali Agha, talking to reporters, said that he had acted upon the decision of the party. However, PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed who is also the parliamentary leader of his party, in his interaction with the media, said that he supported the bill. However, he did not take part in the voting and came in the house after the passage of the bill.

Out of total eight Fata senators, only Senator Saleh Shah was present in the house at the time of voting and others remained absent throughout the house proceedings. Before the minister in-charge of law Sheikh Aftab was about to table the bill, the ruling party made its last-minute efforts to bring the Fata senators in the house but could not find anyone. However, the government took a sigh of relief when it came to know that the house had more members than the required two third majority needed to get pass the constitutional amendment bill.

The 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill, already passed by the National Assembly, took more than a month to sail through the Senate as Pakistan People’s Party had refused to support it until Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi assured it during last week that its demand of re-audit of five per cent of population census blocks would be fulfilled. The bill was first tabled in the house on November 17 but failed to sail through the house due to lack of presence of required two-third majority of the lawmakers. The bill was tabled more than once in the Senate but each time the government had to seek deferment because of lack of required strength in the house.

The revised statement of objects and reasons of the bill says that “Article 51 (5) of the Constitution provides that seats in the National Assembly shall be allocated to each province, the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and the Federal Capital on the basis of the population in accordance with the last census officially published.”

“There is a consensus among the political parties that for the purpose of next general elections to be held in 2018 and by-elections related thereto, allocation of National Assembly seats should be made on the basis of provisional results of the 2017 census without changing the existing total number of general seats (272) and women seas (60) and retaining the share of the Fata (12),” the statement further says.

According to the proposed allocation, seats of National Assembly will increase for Balochistan (2 general seats + 1 women seat), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (4+1) and federal capital (1+0), while 9 seats of Punjab will decrease (7 general &2 women seats) and seats of Sindh will remain the same.

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) in its meeting held on November 13, had approved publication of the provisional results of Census 2017.

The CCI had also decided that third party validation will be carried out of 1 per cent census blocks proportionately in each province throughout the country selected by random computer ballot, before the final results are compiled. “The percentage of census blocks for which validation is to be carried out may change if so decided by the CCI,” further says the statement of objects and reasons of the bill.

Before the minister in-charge of law was going to move the motion to get pass the constitutional amendment bill, JUI-F Senator Hafiz Hamdullah sought explanation from the government as to why the bill was delayed for more than a month since November 17 when it was first tabled in the house. He said that the house should be taken into confidence as to what were the concerns of the opposition on the proposed amendment and on what condition the opposition agreed to support the bill only in the ‘10-minute meeting’ with the prime minister?

Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Hasil Bazenjo replied that there were no pre-conditions of the opposition to support the bill except the re-audit of the five per cent of population census blocks and the prime minister gave assurance in the parliamentary parties meeting in this connection.

After the passage of the bill, Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq said that the bill was necessary for continuity of democratic system but thanked the opposition and the independent members of the house for supporting the bill. “This could not be possible without the support of opposition parties,” he said.