ISLAMABAD: The treasury benches bulldozed through the lower house of parliament a controversial electoral reforms bill amid scathing criticism and vociferous protest from the opposition benches.
The Election Bill, 2017, commonly known as Electoral Reforms Bill which has already been approved by the Senate, was subsequently signed into law by President Mamnoon Hussain late Monday night.
A controversial clause in the bill allows disqualified politicians to hold a public office or to lead a political party. Section 203 of the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 allows every citizen, except for government servants, to form a political party or become its office-bearer.
The bill seeks to augment eight sets of laws governing the electoral process in Pakistan including the Political Parties Order (PPO) 2002. According to PPO, Nawaz Sharif had to step down as PML-N chief after his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the Panamagate case.
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Incensed by the government move, opposition parties tore up copies of the bill after it was moved by Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Opposition lawmakers, especially those from Imran Khan’s PTI, chanted slogans against Sharif and his family. They gathered around the podium of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq where they shouted slogans for some time.
Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said he would challenge the controversial law in the apex court. “You are endangering democracy in Pakistan for the sake of one person," he said while directly addressing the treasury benches.
“You have mounted a rocket attack on the Supreme Court [by passing this bill],” he said. “Sharif doesn’t want to see even his brother [Shehbaz Sharif] as chief of PML-N.”
Rashid said that having a majority in the house didn’t give the PML-N licence to risk democracy by bulldozing through parliament such controversial piece of legislation. “The PML-N doesn’t have an alternative leadership,” he added. “Tomorrow, [notorious target killer] Ajmal Pahari will also be leading a political party.”
Rashid’s invective was received with jeers and taunts as treasury lawmakers booed him throughout his speech. “The warpath the PML-N is treading will lead the country to nowhere,” Rashid said.
The opposition believes that by bringing Sharif back as its president the PML-N is taunting the Supreme Court which has disqualified him for life from holding any public office.
“Give me one example where a politician disqualified by the top court has become chief of a party,” Rashid asked treasury lawmakers. “I didn’t intend to challenge this law, but today your attitude has forced me to change my mind,” he said while referring to the PML-N lawmakers.
Taking his turn, Shah Mehmood Qureshi of PTI said that Clause 203 of the bill was against the spirit of the Constitution. “This law is being introduced for one person [Sharif] which is against the very spirit of Articles 62 and 43 of the Constitution.”
Qureshi called upon the government to review the controversial clause or else it would be challenged in the apex court.
PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar, when given the floor, also endorsed Qureshi’s views that the law has been introduced for only one person (Shari). “This is undemocratic and would be challenged in the court.”
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“If challenged, this law would go to the same Supreme Court which has disqualified Sharif. Don’t go for confrontation [with institutions],” he said. “Claiming that the military and the judiciary are conspiring against Sharif is neither good for him nor for his party and democracy.
Interestingly however, opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah, who also belongs to the PPP, spoke on everything but the controversial law.
Iqbal Qadri of the MQM-Pakistan said history would never forgive the PML-N, if Clause 203 was not removed from the bill. “This clause violates Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution and hence un-Islamic. How can a fraudster become head of a political party,” he said while referring to Sharif.
Sahibzada Tariqullah of Jamaat-e-Islami demanded that the government defer the controversial clause to salvage the hard work of all political parties who agreed on electoral reforms. “The controversial clause has been inserted in the bill without taking other parties into confidence which shows mala fide on the part of the treasury benches,” he said. “You may bulldoze this bill through the National Assembly since you have a majority in the house.”
Qaumi Wattan Party chief Aftab Ahmed Sherpao also opposed the controversial clause. PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, on the other hand, heaped praise on Sharif amid sloganeering from PTI lawmakers.
The National Assembly also passed the Right of Access to Information Bill, 2017 intending to promote a two-way flow of information, from the government to the people and vice versa for strengthening and safeguarding public’s right to know.
The government introduced three other bills – The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2017; The Evening Courts Bill, 2017; and The General Statistics (Reorganisation) (Amendment) Bill, 2017.