The National Assembly Tuesday rejected with majority vote the motion to consider the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2017 moved by PPP leader Syed Naveed Qamar to further amend the Elections Act 2017.
One hundred and sixty-three members of treasury benches voted against the motion while ninety-eight of the opposition voted in its favour.
The amendment proposed by the opposition sought amendment in the clause 203 to restrict disqualified members from holding any party office.
Opposing the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said the real irony was that those belonging to the party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were opposing a move similar to one condoned by him
Law Minister Zahid Hamid clarified that the clause 203 of the Elections Act 2017 is not person specific. Hamid instead turned the tables and said that it was the amendment presented to parliament by the opposition that was person-specific, rather than the one the government had presented and approved after a proper review by a parliamentary committee and all political parties.
He also recalled that none of the parties had objected when a committee and a sub-committee of the parliament looking into the Elections Act had suggested removing the provisions related to disqualification.
The report of the sub-committee on electoral reforms was unanimous with no dissent note.
The Minister reminded that disqualification clauses were introduced by former President Pervaiz Musharraf in Political Parties Ordinance 2002 to keep former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto out of politics. He said the PPP government in 1975 had also removed the clauses laid down by General Ayub Khan about the disqualification of members in Political Parties Act 1962.
Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique said the decision about the country’s future will be taken by the political parties.
He said the political parties should avoid steps that undermine democracy and weaken political community.
After he presented the bill to the Lower House of the Parliament, Qamar said that the Electoral Reforms Bill, passed by the National Assembly and Senate, was being corrected through amendments meant as corrections.
“There have been further amendments in the Elections Bill,” he said. “The essence of the Constitution is damaged when a person who is not even a member of the house is allowed to lead a political party.”
“We feel the bill should be amended till a member cannot be a party’s president if they are not eligible to be a member of the National Assembly,” he said, adding that it was unfortunate that an amendment that was passed to benefit one individual would have a lasting enough effect on the house.
“The respect of this house, which makes policies, is the responsibility of the Chairperson,” he said. “We cannot be casual about democracy; democracy should be real; democracy means there is rule of law. It also means we respect the Constitution and the institutions.”
He continued to say that his party had brought forward the bill to move one step in the general direction of reigniting the true essence of democracy. “The bill has been moved by all opposition parties. I hope the bill today is passed by this house today,” he said.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi of PTI said Clause 203’s insertion conflicts with the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Panama Papers case,” he said, adding that the clause unbalances the country’s Constitution, which is based on a tracheotomy of powers.