Amid a strong protest by the opposition in the National Assembly, the house passed the 'Election Bill 2017,' paving way for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to regain chairmanship of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The National Assembly also passed "The Right of Access to Information Bill, 2017" and "The Auditor General's (Functions, Powers and Terms and Conditions of Service) (Amendment) Bill, 2017."
The opposition members were enraged over a controversial amendment to the bill that will allow politicians disqualified from holding public office to head political parties. They also accused the treasury members of bulldozing the amendment just to accommodate a single individual, Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court on July 28 in the Panama Papers case.
Clause 203 (1) of the bill says, "Every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, shall have the right to form or be a member of a political party or be otherwise associated with a political party or take part in political activities or be elected as an office-bearer of a political party."
The government replaced the above clause of the bill with: "Provided that a person shall not be appointed or serve as an office-bearer of a political party if he is not qualified to be, or is disqualified from being, elected or chosen as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) under Article 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or under any other law for the time being in force."
Speaking on the floor of the House, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed accused the government of targeting Supreme Court through the passage of this clause. He also said he would move the Supreme Court against, what he said, the controversial clause 203 of the Election Bill. "The government should reconsider its decision as the results of confrontation with the institutions have never been positive," he said.
Sheikh Rashid also questioned the treasury members as to why Shahbaz Sharif is not acceptable to the PML-N as a chairman of the party. "The government is doing the legislation to benefit an individual," he said. When Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq gave floor to Law Minister Zahid Hamid to move the bill for its passage, the members of the opposition parties raised vociferous slogans and urged the government to reconsider the amendment.
Members of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) gathered in front of the Speaker's dais, tore down the copies of the agenda and threw the pieces up in the air. Pakistan People's Party and Jamaat-e-Islami members also protested against the passage of the controversial amendment by standing on their seats in the House. The House echoed with anti-Nawaz slogans.
Addressing the Lower House, PTI senior leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that clause 203 of the legislation, which pertains to the eligibility of persons to hold office in a political party, is "person-specific and against the spirit of the Constitution."
"The Constitution says that any person not qualified under Article 62 and 63 (cannot hold office)," he said, adding that the Supreme Court had set precedent on the matter by disqualifying Nawaz under Article 62(1)(f) in the Panama Papers case.
Urging the government to reconsider the bill and include the omitted clause, Qureshi said if the bill is passed in its present form, his party would approach the courts. Shafqat Mahmood of the PTI also said that the government has cheated the opposition members of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms by "fraudulently replacing the clause 203 of the bill."
PPP member Naveed Qamar said the government is adopting an undemocratic way to benefit a single person through the controversial legislation. He said the Nawaz Sharif was all in all even after disqualification by the Supreme Court and he does not require an official position to run his party PML-N. "The government should exhibit responsible attitude and reconsider the bill," he said. Jamaat-e-Islami member Sahibzada Tariqullah said that it is condemnable that a disqualified person is being made chairman of a political party through the legislation.
MQM-P member SA Iqbal Qadri said that "a corrupt and dishonest person is being made chairman of a party through this amendment." "The history will not forgive us if this controversial amendment is passed," he said, adding: "This is also a clear violation of Articles 62, 63 of the Constitution as well as Islamic law."
Qaumi Watan Party Chairman Aftab Sherpao admitted the negligence on part of the opposition members that they could not point out the clause in the bill earlier, while the Senate identified it.
He urged the government to legislate in better interest of the country and the Parliament instead of a single person. When Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai spoke in favour of the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he was heckled by the PTI members. The JI and MQM-P also presented their amendments in the bill, but they all were rejected by the House.
The Law Minister also introduced, "The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (amendment) Bill 2017," "The Evening Courts Bill, 2017" and "The General Statistics (reorganization) (amendment) Bill 2017." Earlier, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah demanded the government to withdraw the recent hike in petroleum prices immediately. He said the international price of the petrol is $44 per barrel, but the government has imposed 31 percent taxes on the petroleum products. He said the government should bring down the petroleum prices by decreasing general sales tax on the petroleum products.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2017