November 10, 2017

Polls may be delayed, govt tells Senate

ISLAMABAD: The government informed the Senate on Thursday that the next general election may be delayed as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had indicated to seek guidance from the Supreme Court (SC) on delimitation of constituencies if parliament failed to find a solution to the issue instantly.

Winding up a debate on recently held national census results controversy, Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid said the 2018 general elections might be delayed if the Election Commission or any other person approached the apex court, seeking its help on delimitation of constituencies on the basis of the new census.

However, he maintained that the government wanted elections on time. “But we need nine months; five months for delimitation and four months for preparation for the elections. We are trying to resolve the issue and for that purpose a meeting CCI has also been convened on Monday,” he pointed out.

To this, Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani said that this was not the issue [delay in elections] of parliament and the commission must not park it at the door of parliament, adding it was the duty of the electoral body, the government and Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) to ensure timely elections.

The minister said that in view of the Election Commission, if parliament failed to pass the required legislation for fresh delimitation of constituencies and relocation of seats of the legislature, then the last option was knocking at the door of apex court. “The ECP views that it cannot close its eyes on the results of the census; things will be further complicated if an ordinary citizen approached the court with a plea to increase the National Assembly and provincial assemblies’ seats based on census results,” he cautioned. The minister said that the elections would certainly be delayed if the ECP waited for the final results of the census that according to the schedule, were scheduled to be announced in April next year.

To a question by Senate chairman, Hamid said that there was no such provision in the Constitution that the government could issue a notification for delimitation on basis of provisional census results as it could be possible only through a constitutional amendment.

Then, citing different articles of the Constitution pertaining to ECP, Rabbani questioned why the commission did not invoke Article 220 of the Constitution to bring into play the Article 219, which states “Commission shall be charged with the duty of the holding of general elections to the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and local governments”.

Rabbani also summoned a meeting of all the senators after the Friday prayers to get a briefing from PBS after the law minister concluded a debate regarding reservations of the lawmakers on the provisional results of census. The minister challenged the reservations of the lawmakers and quoting some international organizations that the population results were the same as projected by these organizations.

He said that there were some misunderstandings on the census results. Giving the example, he said that the population of Lahore increased highly because some years back, the whole Lahore district was declared urban while some areas of District Kasur were also included in Lahore. While the Sindh government did not do this in Karachi, he said. He offered that the meeting of the lawmakers could be arranged with the PBS to address their reservations but at the same time requested the House to give an authenticity to the census results.

Senator Mohsin Aziz of PTI, who is the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Privatisation and Statistics, pointed out that PBS was compiling the census results with a very casual attitude and feared that it would not be possible that final results would be announced in April. He said that the bureau was compiling this huge data with only 16 computers.

Hazaras were likened to the Rohingya Muslims, as both were fleeing their countries to save their lives. The lawmakers in the House grilled the government for keeping its eyes shut on providing security to the persecuted Hazara community, forcing about 70,000 Hazaras to take refuge in Australia that tarnished the image of the country.

Through a calling attention notice, Senators Dr Karim Khawaj, Col (retd) Tahir Mashhadi, Mian Atique, Rozi Khan Kakar and Farhatullah Babar, questioned why a huge number of people were forced to quit their citizenship and take refuge in Australia. Senator Babar likened the Hazaras of Balochistan to the Rohingya Muslims as both were fleeing their countries in desperation. “If one was Hazara, he was marked for assassination. Even the police belonging to the community were killed in targeted attack just to warn that anyone protecting them will meet the same fate,” he lamented. He said that Hazaras have been fleeing to Indonesia and Malaysia from where they have been seeking to travel by sea to Australia, and New Zealand and other countries in search of safe living. But lately the government of Australia had put up newspaper advertisements announcing that it would no longer accept refugees arriving by boat, he added.

Hazaras fleeing Balochistan, he noted, were threatened to meet the fate of Rohingya Muslims and become food for the fish, adding the plight of Hazaras was neither on the radar of parliament nor of the political parties and they had been left to fend for themselves. “We have been raising voice for the Rohingyas but not for Hazaras. I would urge the Senate to take up the matter and set up a special committee of Senate to address the issue in earnest,” he added. He said that the countries of the Far East to which Hazaras migrated did not allow them to work and their children could not attend schools. If a generation of fleeing Hazaras remained illiterate, it will only add to the pool from which militants draw recruits, he warned.

Senator Mashhadi of MQM said that persecution of Hazaras was the worst example of sectarianism in the country. He said that after human rights groups raised voice for the Hazaras, the Australian government offered them asylum, which was the last option as the government failed to ensure their security. Senator Ateeq Sheikh said that the international human rights organizations have also stopped taking cases of Hazaras seriously, which is unfortunate as their lives are still in danger due to government failure to ensure security to them. Winding up the debate, state minister for interior Talal Chaudhary said that the government had no mechanism to give exact figure of people who have so far migrated to Australia. He said that a few years back when government launched a crackdown against terrorist organizations, they started targeted minority communities across the country in order to spoil the image of the country.

Speaking on a point of public, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah protested on not providing adequate security to chairman Senate Raza Rabbani who, according to the senator, was facing life threats. “JUI-F chief Maulana Fazur Rehman, deputy chairman Senate Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, and ANP chief Asfandyar were given bulletproof vehicles after they were attacked by terrorists, but why the government is reluctant to give similar security to the Senate chairman, who is facing life threats,” he questioned.

Rabbani, while raising his palms over his head said that he seeks security from Allah Almighty, as He is the Protector of us all.

Earlier, paying glowing tributes to the national poet and philosopher, Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal with regards to his birthday, legislators said that the great poet had given a new awakening not only to the Muslims of the Sub-continent but to other parts of the world.

Leader of the House, Raja Muuhammad Zafarul Haq rose to point out to November 09, the day, the great poet was born 1877, and then said the Allama was one of the founders of Pakistan, and because of his poetry, the Iranians managed to defeat imperialism.

“The Allama has left great of his poetry and thoughts on the Muslim world, as at that time, only Turkey was a free country while the rest under subjugation of imperialism,” said PPP Senator Taj Haider, who said he was surprised when once at Tehran airport, a taxi driver recited a poem of Allama Iqbal by heart on knowing he (Haider) was from Pakistan. Senator Haider recalled when Iranian leader visited Lahore during his Pakistan visit, he said to be a devotee (mureed) of Allama Iqbal. He noted the great thinker and philosopher was equally respected in Pakistan, Iran and some other countries.

PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed said the Allama’s poetry was both progressive and revolutionary, who gave also the message of change. Mushahid said Allama Iqbal had the vision to predict rise of China in 1932 and decline of capitalism.

He said the Allama had great impact on the central Asian republics through his poetry. He added Iranian leaders, including Syed Ali Khamenei and Muhammad Khatami were great admirers of the great poet and philosopher.

JUI-Fazal Senator Hafiz Hamdullah said that keeping in view the thoughts of Allama Iqbal, there was a need to see whether Pakistan was moving forward accordingly or not and added that in fact, things were quite opposite to his thoughts. He lamented today hypocrisy, lies and capitalism had dominated politics in Pakistan and asserted merely talking about his poetry and philosophy, we were not serving Pakistan.

The Attorney General of Pakistan gave in-camera briefing to the senators on the status of the case with regards to RAW spy Kulbhushan Jadav in the International Court of Justice. The legislators were informed that the government was confident of positive outcome of the case.

The House also passed a resolution to pay tributes to prominent Sindhi intellectual and literary figure Muhammad Ibrahim Joyo, who passed away. The resolution was moved by PPP Senator Sassui Palijo. The House also offered fateha for the victims of latest terrorist attack in Quetta.



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