The 26th Amendment

Just as the terms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package were being shared with the nation, this government approved another major change – the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill. After months of uncertainty and inactivity the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) policy decisions have come in a rush. The constitutional amendment – which increases the number of seats for the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the NA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly – and the bailout package are the first macro changes that the government can call their own and point to in the future. Meanwhile, the local government reforms hold the same significance in the province of Punjab.

Despite being the only notable piece of legislation that has passed through the National Assembly, the bill’s importance cannot be underestimated. The bill increases the number of NA seats for ex-Fata representatives from six to 12, and KP Assembly seats from 16 to 24. The merger of the two administrative units and the mainstreaming of the tribal regions would have only remained a superficial notion until more structural changes were brought to the government system. The amendment gives FATA the representation they deserve based on their size and importance, lending much-needed strength to their voice in the halls of power. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement that more funds are needed to rebuild and fully integrate the region, coupled with the National Assembly’s unanimous resolve to see a greater chunk of the development budget given to FATA, indicates that the process of mainstreaming can truly begin.

Perhaps equally important are the legislation’s political ramifications. For a fractured legislature such scenes of unity and resolve are few and far in between – the last time we were so united the country was almost at war. Mere weeks ago, it would have been a stretch to imagine that the National Assembly could agree on any new legislation – let alone a constitutional amendment which requires a two-third majority Yet, politicians with insurmountable differences between them set their quarrels aside and come together for a bill that furthers the common good. Both the opposition and treasury benches should take away positives from this passage; with the right spirit of compromise our dysfunctional government can be made functional again.

However, how long this new-found cooperation is to last remains to be seen; it can easily be shattered the next time a barb is thrown across the benches.

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