The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Monday approved the draft of the 20th Amendment bill, moved by the government to give constitutional cover to by-elections conducted by the chief election commissioner (CEC) under an incomplete Election Commission.
The Supreme Court had earlier told the government that if the amendment was not adopted by Feb 6, election of 29 MNAs and MPAs might be declared illegal. The bill would be the third amendment passed during the tenure of the current government, however, unlike the previous two amendments — 18th and 19th — it was not drafted by a bi-partisan, bi-cameral parliamentary panel with all the political groups on board.
Furthermore, there were reasons to believe that the bill would also be passed by both the National Assembly and the Senate, possibly within next week, despite a boycott of the committee by the main opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The lower house is scheduled to be in session later this week while the Senate was already in session.
The government’s allies — Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Awami National Party (ANP) and members from tribal areas — are all likely to support the amendment. If so, their combined strength should allow them to comfortably meet the two-thirds majority needed in both houses of parliament to pass the amendment.
PML-Q’s Riaz Fatiyana and MQM’s Iqbal Qadri voiced their support for the amendment during the committee’s meeting, indicating the possibility of their respective parties also being on board to support the bill when it comes to the National Assembly and the Senate.
The committee meeting under the chairpersonship of Begum Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry was attended by only eight of the 16 members of the committee. PML-N lawmakers were missing in action, keeping in line with the party’s policy of not supporting the 20th Amendment unless the government came up with a bill relating to the tenure of members of the Election Commission and reached an agreement with opposition parties on the appointment of a new chief election commissioner.
Meanwhile, a member from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) criticised the Supreme Court for what he called “overstepping its constitutional mandate by interfering in electoral matters”.
“It is the political lot that has to contest elections, not the Supreme Court. Then, why do they have to interfere with everything?” asked Abdul Ghafoor Chaudhry of the PPP.
However, the minister was immediately held back by Federal Minister for Water and Power Naveed Qamar, who advised him to be careful in his comments about the judiciary.
ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed Khan had earlier told the committee that the commission would not be able to meet the deadline given by the Supreme Court for completing electoral lists by February 23.
“We can do it only by May … not before that,” Ishtiak had said.
Ishtiak appeared to be critical of the court’s order to the commission, saying the electoral body was a constitutional institution and its power as an independent entity must be respected.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.
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