ISLAMABAD, Nov 19: The government is all set to push through the Senate on Tuesday a controversial constitution amendment bill that allows dual nationality holders to become members of parliament despite facing opposition even from one of its coalition partners.
The bill, which is on the agenda for Tuesday’s session, if passed, will not only allow dual nationals to contest the general election but also nullify the recent orders of the Supreme Court disqualifying at least 12 legislators for holding dual nationality because it will have a retrospective effect from Nov 1, 2007.
The members of the Awami National Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on Monday protested over the government’s move to present the draft of the 22nd Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2012. It had earlier been approved by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice despite the fact that it was not on the agenda for the day.
Both Syed Zafar Ali Shah of the PML-N and Haji Adeel of the ANP questioned the urgency on the part of the government and termed the presentation of the committee’s report on the bill on a private member’s day a violation of the rules. The PML-N’s members also staged a token walkout when PPP’s Kazim Khan laid the draft of the amended bill as head of the committee on law and justice.
The committee had made a couple of major changes in the original bill that had been moved by Law Minister Farooq H. Naek in the Senate on July 10 seeking an amendment to sub-clause (C) of Article 63(1) of the Constitution dealing with the disqualification of a member of parliament.
The new draft, however, suggests that after contesting and winning an election, the dual nationality holder will have to “renounce” the citizenship of the other country before taking oath as a legislator. This amendment, sources said, had been suggested by the PML-Q, another coalition partner of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Article 63(1-C) says: “A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament), if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state.”
The proposed amendment adds: “Provided that paragraph (c) shall be inapplicable in respect of the term of the members of the Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament) who filed their nominations between the first day of November 2007 and the thirty-first day of December 2012 (both days inclusive).
“Provided further that a person, who is a citizen of Pakistan and is at the same time a citizen or national of any other state, may file the nomination to be elected as a member of the Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament), whereafter, upon being returned and before taking oath as a member of the Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament), he shall renounce the citizenship or nationality of such other state.”
The draft has also explained the term “renounce”, saying: “The term ‘renounce’ shall mean the filing of a bona fide, irrevocable and irreversible declaration in writing by the person mentioned in this proviso, as required by the law of the foreign state, with regard to the giving up of the foreign citizenship or nationality.”
The original bill that had been submitted by the law minister had only allowed those persons to contest the elections who possessed the nationalities of 16 countries with whom “Pakistan government has a dual nationality arrangement under the law, before or after the commencement of the Constitution (22nd) Amendment Act 2012”.
Pakistan has such arrangements with the US, the UK, Canada, France, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Syria and Sweden.
The government is bringing the bill for passage at a time when the Supreme Court has already suspended the membership of 12 dual national members of parliament for submitting wrong affidavits at the time of contesting the 2008 general election.
The government enjoys complete support of its main coalition partner – Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – over the bill whereas it is facing opposition from the ANP. The PML-Q had earlier declared that it would support the bill if its proposal that the dual nationality holder would renounce the foreign nationality before taking oath as parliamentarian was included.
It is believed that after inclusion of the provision, the PPP will get the support of the PML-Q on the bill as well. This provision was also acceptable to the PML-N, the party’s spokesman Mushahidullah Khan said.
Although ANP and PML-N members on Monday opposed the government for presenting the bill on a private member’s day, they did not speak on the merits and demerits of the bill. Members of both the parties remained non-committal on whether they would support the bill in the Senate on Tuesday.
Some political analysts believe that the PML-N might also support the bill as it had also lost a number of its legislators in the past due to the bar on dual nationals to contest the polls.
Syed Zafar Ali Shah of the PML-N, however, said that the bill had been tabled by the government without consensus in the standing committee and that he had also submitted a note of dissent.
“The Statement of Objects and Reasons” attached with the bill piloted by Mr Naek states: “Pakistan is one such country which permits the holding of a dual citizenship/nationality in terms of the Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951.”
It says that in many countries, dual nationality holders “can exercise the right to vote and can also run for parliamentary election”. It further says: “Our country’s economy has always been considerably supported by overseas Pakistanis, whose allegiance to Pakistan should not be in doubt. It has been a longstanding demand of the overseas Pakistanis that there should be no impediment in their way to run for elections for the parliament. They are deeply concerned about events in Pakistan and are keen to play an effective role and want to contribute to national cause. Therefore, through amendment in Article 63(1)(c), the constitutional bar on the dual nationality holders to be members of the Parliament is being lifted.”
NUMBERS GAME: The move to present the constitution amendment bill will be a big test for the government as it requires a two-thirds majority in both the National Assembly and the Senate for its passage.
Whereas the government may find no difficulty in getting the required two-thirds majority in the Senate, it may face a daunting task to get the bill through the National Assembly without the support of the PML-N.
At present the government enjoys the support of more than the required 70 senators in the 104-member Senate. However, in the National Assembly, the government had failed to get a two-thirds majority in the election of Raja Pervez Ashraf as prime minister. Mr Ashraf had secured 211 votes whereas the government needs the support of 228 members for the two-thirds majority in a 342-member house.
The government had to take the PML-N onboard at the time of the passage of the 18th, 19th and 20th amendment bills.