20th Amendment: Different House, more opposition

Opposition groups express reservations over the bill; govt remains optimistic.

Qamar Zaman February 19, 2012


The passage of the 20th Constitutional Amendment Bill by the National Assembly was not all smooth sailing. And it has once again set into motion a new phase of negotiations between the government and opposition for a unanimous approval by upper house of the Parliament.

Approved by the National Assembly after seven deferments, the Bill met the same fate in the Senate when the Opposition, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) who do not have representation in the lower house, raised concern.

The bill was deferred on the first day of a special session in the Senate and is likely to be presented again on February 20.

“Yes we have concerns,” said Senator Professor Khursheed Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), while talking to The Express Tribune on Saturday.

“The government did not consult our party the way it did for the 18th and 19th Constitutional Amendments,” was the first point highlighted by the JI leader.

Once approved by the Senate, the amendment will provide legal protection to 28 suspended parliamentarians who were elected between April 2010 and July last year when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was incomplete.

“Giving indemnity is like reviving the law of necessity which would be against the rulings of Supreme Court,” the JI leader said.

Khursheed referred to the Supreme Court judgment against the steps taken by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf (of imposing emergency in 2007) and had held that the law of necessity has been buried once and for all.

Regarding the care-taker government, he said that entrusting the right to the ECP would not be appropriate. “The ECP, which has to hold elections, would not remain impartial in that case,” he added.

Professor Khursheed, however, hailed the other part of the amendment aimed at strengthening the ECP for holding free, fair and transparent elections.

Senator Abdul Rahim Khan Mandokhail from the PkMAP said he had no reservations with regard to the bill; however, he added that he will present his point of view when the bill is presented before the House.

Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was optimistic about winning over the Opposition by the next Senate session.

“The bill was not deferred because of oppositions’ reservations … instead the members wanted to go through the contents after it was transmitted from the National Assembly to the Senate,” Bokhari told The Express Tribune on Saturday.

“It is a constitutional amendment and not an ordinary piece of legislation; therefore, we want to make sure that there is no lacuna in the bill,” he added.

When asked whether the meeting was meant to muster support of the opposition, Bokhari said, “Getting approval of the bill is not a big deal for us since we have two-third majority.  But we want a unanimous passage of the amendment.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.


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