ISLAMABAD: The government has finally managed to block the opposition’s move in the National Assembly to prevent a disqualified person from heading a political party, and paved the way for deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif to continue calling the shots in his eponymous Pakistan Muslim League.
In the house of 342 members, the ruling PML-N on Tuesday garnered support of 163 MNAs against the “Election (Amendment) Act, 2017”, presented in the house by Naveed Qamar – the parliamentary leader of the leading opposition party in the National Assembly, the PPP.
As many as 98 lawmakers – all from opposition benches, except for former PM Mir Zafarullah Jamali, who belongs to the ruling party – voted in favour of the bill.
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JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman, PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achackzai and the PTI’s chief Imran Khan were not present on the occasion.
The government and its allies have a total of 220 MNAs – 188 from the ruling PML-N, 13 from the JUI-F and 3 from the PkMAP.
The bill – which had been passed by the Senate – sought that a person who is not eligible to be elected as a member of parliament on account of being disqualified by a court of law should be barred from becoming office-bearer of any political party.
During voting on the bill, both treasury and opposition benches chanted slogans in favour and against the former PM Sharif, who was disqualified by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court on July 28 for hiding his assets in his nomination papers for 2013 polls.
After National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq put the motion to the lower house, Law Minister Zahid Hamid opted to oppose the bill.
The speaker was about to announce result of voice voting when the mover, Naveed Qamar, asked for division in the house. Later, the speaker asked the members to stand up from their seats in favour of the bill and then against it.
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The headcount was made and the speaker announced that 98 members rose in support of the bill and 163 members rose from their seats to oppose it.
“The motion is rejected,” the chair announced and later prorogued the session for an indefinite period.
Earlier, Qamar while highlighting the main features of the bill said a disqualified person who could not become member of parliament should not be made office-bearer of a political party.
Without mentioning the name of former PM he said: “This house of 342 decides a thing and a person from outside overrules it. The election law should be amended so that a disqualified person may be barred from heading a political party.”
He said, “this house is a policy-making forum but the executive is taking dictation from somewhere else.”
He added, “The joint opposition has moved the bill as a step in the right direction. I hope this bill is passed by the house but if not then it would be presented before the joint session of parliament.”
Sarcastically noting the presence of a large number of MNAs from the treasury benches, Qamar said, “Had the attendance percentage in the house been so high during the past four and half years, the ruling party would not have required passing legislation enabling a disqualified person to head the party.”
Way paved for Sharif to head PML-N again
PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the Political Parties Order, 2002 had a proviso that clearly stated that an individual ineligible for a seat in the assembly cannot head a party.
“That proviso was discussed in the Senate,” he said, adding that the Senate, the upper house of parliament, had applied its collective wisdom to reject it and then send it to the lower house.
He said the Constitution by way of the Article 62 had prescribed some qualifications for a member of parliament and an individual not fulfilling those standards could not lead a party.
“If a five-member bench of the senior most judges of the Supreme Court has declared that an individual doesn’t match the set criteria, how can they continue to lead a party?” he asked.
“Insertion of Clause 203 conflicts with the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Panama Papers case,” he said, adding that the clause “unbalances the country’s Constitution which is based on a trichotomy of powers”.
However, much of Qureshi’s speech was marred by ruckus which was mostly created by members of the ruling party.
Another mover of the bill, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, also took jibes at the ruling party lawmakers and said the house remained empty when it legislated for people but was full when a person-specific legislation was being adopted.
Law Minister Zahid Hamid, however, defended the government and said enabling a disqualified person to head a political party was not a person-specific legislation.
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To justify his stance, he quoted some opposition MNAs, who, according to him, did not oppose the concerned clause when it was discussed in the sub-committee that participated in drafting Election Bill, 2017.
However, Dr Arif Alvi strongly reacted to his remarks and asked him to take back his words.
Railways Minister Saad Rafique said a person would head the party if his workers wanted him to do so. “We will not accept the judgment of a few persons,” he said in an oblique reference to the five-judge bench that disqualified Sharif on July 28.
The lawmakers also introduced the Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill, 2017; and the West Pakistan Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2017. The bills were referred to the relevant standing committees.
The chair deferred the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) (Amendment) Bill, 2017 and the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Amendment in Article 198). The House rejected the motion seeking leave for introduction of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Amendment in Article 51).
It also dropped the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Amendment in Article 91), the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2017, moved by a JUI-F lawmaker and the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2017, moved by a JI lawmaker.