Election bill sparks heated debate in Senate panel

Opposition members oppose bill; govt side says to wait till after Eid to get proper briefing


Saqib Virk July 13, 2021
PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs witnessed a heated debate over the Election Amendment Bill 2021 to amend the Election Act 2017 with the opposition members objecting to it while the government side saying to wait until after Eidul Azha to get a proper briefing.

The bill has been prepared by Law Minister Farogh Naseem and former minister for parliamentary affairs Azam Swati, who were not in attendance.

A meeting of the Senate standing committee was held under the chairmanship of Taj Haider in which the Election Amendment Bill 2021 to amend the Election Act 2017 was discussed.

Briefing on various provisions of the bill, the parliamentary affairs secretary said, “The vote would be registered by NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) at a permanent or temporary address while preparing the identity card. NADRA will hand over the list to the Election Commission after registration of votes.”

PPP Senator Farooq H Naek said, “We do not want NADRA to be involved in the election process.”

Minister of State Ali Muhammad Khan replied, “So don't waste time talking about this clause. Only through technology can we move forward. We will not make any amendment that is against the Constitution.”

Naek said, “If the work of the Election Commission is to be done by NADRA, close the Election Commission.”

Senator Sania Nishtar said, “It would be important to understand the purpose of the amendment to empower NADRA regarding registration of vote.”

Naek replied that not just one amendment but the purpose of all amendments needs to be understood.

Chairman Taj Haider said that it seems that the bill has been drafted by those who have never contested an election.

Minister of State Ali Muhammad Khan said that the Electoral Reform Bill has been prepared by Law Minister Farogh Naseem and former minister for parliamentary affairs Azam Swati.

Read Amendments to election bill unconstitutional: ECP

“It would be better to listen to those who drafted the bill after eating Eid meat.”

The parliamentary affairs secretary said in the briefing that any change in the polling scheme could be made up to 72 hours in advance. “The polling station will not be in a place owned by any candidate or party.”

Naek said the lesser the powers given to the district returning officer, the election will be that good as the district election commissioner can easily influence the election process.

The parliamentary affairs secretary said that under the bill, the fees for contesting elections to the national and provincial assemblies are being fixed at Rs50,000 and Rs30,000, respectively.

Naek said that it is good that not everyone will become a candidate by increasing the fees.

Chairman Haider replied, "Think of me, how can I pay more?"

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar confirmed that in some countries there is no fee for contesting elections. “Therefore, no one's right should be affected by increasing the fee.”

The parliamentary affairs secretary said that if the winning candidate under the bill does not take oath within 60 days, the seat will be considered vacant.

Senator Afnanullah Khan said what will happen if any candidate is ill.

Senator Khokhar replied, "If you add the sick clause, everyone will bring a medical certificate that I cannot take oath."

Members' production orders are not issued after taking oath here, he added.

Senator Naek said that this amendment is the best, it should be 120 days instead of 60.

Chairman Haider confirmed that if the constituency is not represented in the House, no one has the right to be a member of the assembly.

Senator Nishtar said it is incomprehensible if a candidate succeeds and does not come to take oath. “I think 60 days is too much.”

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