NA rejects PPP’s bill seeking repeal of Article 203 of Elections Act 2017, which allows a disqualified or ineligible person to hold party’s top office
Govt loses two-thirds majority as treasury casts 163 votes against 98 by joint Opp
Naveed Qamar says move to reinstate Nawaz as party president was ‘person-specific’
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday rejected a private members’ bill seeking repeal of Article 203 in the Elections (Amendment) Act 2017, which allows any disqualified or ineligible person to become a member or head of a political party.
The bill, supported by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and others, was introduced by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lawmaker Syed Naveed Qamar in the Lower House after its successful passage from the Senate.
The bill sought to amend Section 203 of the Elections (Amendment) Act 2017, after the government recently added a new clause to it, allowing Nawaz Sharif to become president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) following his disqualification by the Supreme Court (SC) in the Panama Papers case.
Debate on the bill caused a ruckus in parliament as the treasury and the opposition members interrupted each other and passed derogatory remarks amid loud sloganeering and slurs.
Terming the earlier amendment in Article 203 by the government a ‘person-specific’ move to reinstate Nawaz as party president, Naveed Qamar said that person-specific laws badly impact the legislative process and also raised serious questions over the parliamentary system.
“This is why people are raising questions whether or not this parliament would complete its term,” he argued.
He said that his party’s bill aimed at rectifying the blunder committed earlier by the government which had impacted parliament’s functionality. He added that if his bill was not carried, the speaker should summon a joint session of the parliament.
LAW MINISTER OPPOSES BILL:
Opposing the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said that it was ironic that those belonging to the party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were now opposing a move which was similar to the one condoned by Bhutto himself. He explained that the conditions for disqualification of political personality had been introduced through Section 5 of the Political Parties Act of 1962.
“When Bhutto came into power, the said article was removed in 1975 and no one objected until 2000,” Hamid said and argued that in 2000, the [then] president Musharraf introduced the Political Parties Order, 2000, because “he wanted to keep Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out,” he said.
He further 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.
PPP’s Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho and Shazia Marri rejected the points raised by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, arguing that the individual who had drafted laws to impose emergency for a dictator [Pervez Musharraf] was now trying to impart democracy lectures to parliament.
Supporting the opposition’s bill, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the new law had enabled Nawaz Sharif to control party policies even from outside the parliament. He opined that someone who was not truthful and honest in view of the apex court should not be eligible to hold any party office.
Qureshi also criticised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for toeing the directions of the former prime minister.
“The insertion of Section 203 is a direct confrontation with the SC and in conflict with the constitution,” he said and added that any legislation which only facilitates a particular individual cannot be termed “good legislation”.
“Your party has been ruling for the past 30 years. Isn’t there one person [in your party] who is eligible [to head it] according to Article 62 [of the Constitution]?” he asked. “Can you not even trust your brother? Can you not trust a senior parliamentarian like Nisar Ali Khan?” Qureshi argued.
Khawaja Saad Rafique vehemently defended his leader and said that Pakistanis would not allow individuals to adopt ‘minus-one’ formulas.
“You cannot minus Nawaz Sharif, Zardari or Altaf Hussain. Now the people would choose their leaders,” he maintained.
Responding to the bill’s failure in the House, Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rasheed in his video message said that the rejection amendment was not a victory for PML-N.
He said that around 40 members of the treasury were missing from voting despite the fact that the government had all the resources at its disposal and Rs21 billion development programmes were announced.
“We will fight our case in the apex court tomorrow and we will continue to fight thieves, robbers and corrupt elements until the last drop of our blood,” he resolved.
Tuesday’s session was attended by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as well as Leader of Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah. As many as 133 lawmakers were present at the outset of the session while 261 were present at the adjournment of the sitting.
HOW THE NUMBERS PLAYED:
The treasury benches managed to kill the motion as 163 votes were cast against the bill and 98 were cast in its favour. The government, however, proved that it had lost the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly as it could bag only 163 votes even though it had a strength of 188 members in the House before the voting on the bill started.
The tally of 163 reflected that despite luring its members with billions of rupees in development funds, the government failed to muster its original strength as recently elected prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had bagged 213 votes. In Tuesday’s count, the government’s strength was depleted by at least 45 members.
The treasury benches suffered a jolt as former prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali jumped the ship and voted in favour of the bill.
Before the voting started, PML-N was represented with 167 members whereas its allies Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl( JUI-F) had 12 members, PML-Functional (PML-F) had five and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) had three members, respectively.
Members of the opposition parties included 44 of PPP, 31 of PTI, 22 of MQM, four of the JI and two each of the PML-Quaid and the Awami National Party (ANP).
Nawaz had earlier in the day hosted a lunch for the ruling coalition lawmakers just to ensure that the government bags desired numbers. The decision perhaps was taken in wake of previous sessions where the government failed to even maintain a quorum at times.
Keeping in view its poor strength, the ruling party had also managed to get the previous session of the NA adjourned halfway just a day before the private members’ day. The opposition had lodged a strong protest with the National Assembly speaker who had promised in the Business Advisory Meeting to carry Naveed Qamar’s bill.
The lawmakers also introduced the Pakistan Baitul Maal (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill, 2017 and the West Pakistan Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2017. The bills were referred to the relevant standing committees.
The Chair deferred the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) (Amendment) Bill, 2017, and the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Amendment in Article 198). The House rejected the motion seeking leave for introduction of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Amendment in Article 51).
The House dropped the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Amendment in Article 91), the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (moved by JUI-F lawmaker) and the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (moved by JI lawmaker).
The Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat chairman presented the report of the committee on the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Medical University Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2014. The House condoned the delay in the presentation of the report.
The Standing Committee on Law and Justice chairman presented the report of the committee on Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils (Amendment) Bill, 2017 while the Standing Committee on Human Rights chairman presented the report of the committee on the National Commission for Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
The Standing Committee on Interior chairman presented the reports of the committee on the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the Pakistan Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the Pakistan Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (insertion of section 166A) and the Federal Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2017. The House condoned the delay in the presentation of the reports.
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges chairman, the minister for defence presented a report of the committee on the amendments proposed in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007.
The House did not take up the resolutions appearing on the Orders of the Day.
The House left the Acid and Burn Crime Bill, 2017, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (section 489F) and the Federal Public Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2017 unaddressed.
The House took up a Calling Attention Notice (CAN) regarding the incidents of human rights abuse especially against women during the recent weeks. The Minister for Human Rights made a statement on this issue.
Another CAN about the delay in the commencement of NTS entry test for admission in medical and dental institutions was also not addressed.