National Assembly Tuesday rejected an amendment bill seeking removal of Section 203 from Elections Act 2017 to bar a disqualified person from leading a political party, after 163 members voted against it. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) MNA Syed Naveed Qamar moved the bill that was already passed by the Senate with a majority vote. The joint opposition wanted to remove the section from the bill that the government had already managed to pass from the Parliament to get disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif re-elected as president of the party following Supreme Court's verdict in the Panama Papers case.
Both the opposition and treasury benches had ensured their maximum attendance in the House to vote for the bill. A total of 98 members of the opposition cast their votes in favour of the bill while 163 treasury members voted against it. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senior member Mir Zafarullah Jamali also joined hands with the opposition parties and cast his vote in favour of the bill. Members from Federally Administered Tribal Areas were also absent from the House.
Not only is clause 203 in the Elections Act 2017 against the Constitution of Pakistan, it is also the verdict of the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case, the mover of the bill said. He also warned the treasury benches against making confrontation with institutions.
"This legislation was also against the rule of law and democratic norms," he said, urging the government to get the bill passed to repeal the section from the elections act. During the proceedings of the House, members from both the sides kept raising slogans against each other.
Qamar said the ruling party has been in power for the last three decades and it is unfortunate that it does not have a person other than Nawaz Sharif to head the party. When Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) member Shah Mahmood Qureshi rose to speak on the bill, members of the treasury benches started hooting and urged the speaker not to allow Qureshi to speak on it as he was not mover of the bill.
The speaker, however, allowed him to speak on it. Qureshi said the legislation is against the spirit of the Constitution and the section 203 must be removed from it. He said that there are a number of senior members in the PML-N including Chaudhry Nisar and Shahbaz Sharif, but Nawaz Sharif is not going to trust any of them for the party leadership.
Qureshi said the joint opposition has already got this bill passed from the Upper House where all provinces have an equal representation. He said if the opposition's bill is rejected, this could have implications for the federation too. The PPP member, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, said the House is full to protect a single person, but it is shameful that this house remains empty when legislation is done for empowerment of people.
"The bill may be defeated today but it stands on its own feet," she said, adding that "this House is to be condemned." Responding to all these points, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said the legislation that the government has done was unanimously agreed in the parliamentary committees by members of all the parties except the PTI. He said the draft of the bill had been prepared one-and-a-half years before the revelation of the Panama Papers. The minister said the opposition parties changed their mind over the section 203 of the bill only after Panama Papers revelations, believing that this could benefit Nawaz Sharif.
He denied the opposition's stance that the government's legislation was person-specific, saying the government has already got it passed from both the Houses. He said that the section regarding holding of a public office by a disqualified person was first inserted in the Constitution by General Ayub Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto later struck it down in 1975.
The minister said that this was revived again during General Pervez Musharraf's regime in a bid to keep Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto away from politics. Federal Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique said that workers of a political party are the sole authority to decide on leadership of a political party.
"We will not accept decision of a few people (about leadership of their party)," he said, terming it a struggle of democracy. "Pakistan is moving in circles, it is not progressing," he said. The minister said that such legislation barring a person from heading a political party should not be made as his party does not want to see any "minus formula" in politics. "If political leaders are removed from politics, it is tantamount to removal of democracy," he said, urging members of all political parties to unite for the sake of democracy in the country.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2017