The News International Pakistan
Wednesday, July 28, 1999 -- Rabi-us-Sani 14, 1420 A.H.


NA extends quota system for another 20 years

16th Amendment passed by two-thirds majority

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: The Lower House on Tuesday passed the 16th Constitutional Amendment by two-thirds majority, extending the provincial quota system for another 20 years. Only the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) opposed the amendment.

One hundred and sixty two members from the treasury benches combined with those from the opposition and independent benches passed the amendment in Article 27 of the Constitution. Four MQM members, who were present, opposed the amendment. The Leader of the House, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, though present in Parliament building, refrained from attending and casting his vote as he was sure that the opposition and independent members (who had their own interest in seeing the amendment being incorporated) would support the amendment.

The amendment was moved by Law Minister Senator Khalid Anwer, who himself could not vote as he belonged to the Upper House. It is for the first time in nearly three years that the Pakistan Muslim League could not demonstrate its two-thirds majority in the Lower House, whereas in the past it used its majority to pass any bill or amendment that it wished to bring.

If it was not for the 29 votes from the opposition and independent members, the government could only muster about 133 votes, still short of the target of 146 which is the minimum if the government wanted to amend the Constitution. In these 133 votes were included those sitting on the FATA and minority benches and one BNP member. The PML(N) itself has 135 members in the Lower House.

According to the statement of objects and reasons Article 27 of the Constitution provides safeguards against discrimination in services. In order to provide opportunity and representation to all classes of persons and areas in services, Clause (1) of the said article provides that for a period not exceeding 20 years from the commencing day of the Constitution, certain posts may be reserved for persons belonging to any class or areas. It has been felt that since equal opportunity of education and other facilities are not yet available to all citizens of Pakistan, the period of 20 years specified in Clause(1) of Article 27 ibid, be extended to 40 years.

In fact some PML members from the Punjab, though they voted for the amendment, said in private that after 52 years time had come to do away with quotas in the country. Speaker Illahi Bakhsh Soomro was extremely impatient with the MQM members and at one time they were even denied a point of self explanation when a charge was made against them by PML member from Karachi Ejaz Shafi. All the amendments coming from the MQM were voted out.

The MQM members, Kunwar Khalid Yunus, Arif Khan, Dr Nishat Malik and Tariq Javed, failed to make impressive speeches and their yelling and screaming did not help as it made the speaker even more angry. Kunwar Khalid Yunus was an exception but the chair did not give him enough time. "After all we are amending the Constitution and we are only four members so why are our voices not being heard? Please stop throttling our voices," said Kunwar Khalid.

The MQM members said that nowhere in the other three provinces was there a divide of the rural and urban like in Sindh. This they said was unfair when even in Punjab, where the Saraiki belt constitutes 40 per cent of the province, the inhabitants were deprived of jobs. The members felt that there was one instance where for grade 11 jobs there was only one vacancy from urban Sindh while two disabled people had seats reserved in the same post. "Don't push us towards the wall, do not make another Bangladesh," they cautioned.

Arif Khan fell upon the ruling of the Shariat Court which had ruled that quota system was un-Islamic. "Is this justice in Islam? It is the rich and landlord class which is ruling this country," he siad. Minority member Peter John Sahotra on a point of order said that though he was not opposing the amendment the law minister at this stage should also incorporate a quota for the minorities in the country.

"No minority was represented when the Constitution was being framed but today you have a chance to do so," he pleaded. However the law minister did not hear this suggestion as he was busy in conversation. Later, the house was prorogued sine die. The speaker read out the prorogation orders of the President.

The National Assembly had in 1974 passed a bill by amending the Constitution, fixing quota system for different provinces in the country for a period of 10 years. In 1984, the period was extended by another 10 years, during the regime of late General Ziaul Haq. It was later felt that since equal opportunity of education and other facilities are not yet available to all citizens of Pakistan, the period of twenty years specified in Clause (1) of Article 27 of the Constitution be extended to forty years. The smaller provinces, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan, are in favour of continuation of the quota system.