ISLAMABAD: After much ado in both legal and legislative forums, a government bill finally got through parliament on Wednesday to provide for party-based elections for local government in the Islamabad Capital Territory to be topped by its first metropolitan corporation.
The government had first pushed the Federal Capital Territory Local Government Bill through the National Assembly over opposition objections in March, stipulating party-less elections for union councils and the mayor and a deputy mayor of the metropolitan corporation to be elected by their chairpersons.
And it approved it again this time with near unanimity with several amendments made by the opposition-dominated Senate, one of which allowed party-nominated candidates.
The Supreme Court got involved in the matter earlier this year when it was pressing for early local government elections in the country.
A most tricky situation in the saga arose when the court ordered local elections in Islamabad while the bill for party-less elections had been passed only by the National Assembly and awaited passage by the Senate to become law, and, surprisingly, the Election Commission immediately complied by issuing an election schedule on the basis of only a draft law.
It was after an uproar in Senate, where members called the moves by the Supreme Court and the Election Commission an infringement of the powers of the upper house that both the court and the commission retracted from an obvious illegality.
The Wednesday’s passage of the amended bill got through the National Assembly with comparative ease except for demands by some opposition members, mostly from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, that a standing committee of the house have a second look on Senate amendments.
The final vote, only on 17 amended clauses of the 72-caluse bill, came after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan appealed to lawmakers to facilitate the bill’s passage so local government elections in the capital were not delayed any further.
“Save as otherwise provided, election of members of all local governments shall be held on party basis through secret ballot on the basis of adult franchise,” a new clause added to the original draft said.
Some of 16 other amendments -- most of them of not much consequence – applied qualifications and disqualifications set in the constitution for members of parliament to local government members and provided for the nomination of two senators nominated one each by the leader of the house and the leader of the opposition – in addition to similarly nominated two members of the National Assembly – on a local government commission that will be meant to oversee the functioning of the local governments and resolve their disputes.
The passage of the bill was the only legislative business conducted by the house on the third day of its session before being adjourned until 10.30am on Thursday.
FARMERS’ WOES: Earlier, members of the farm lobby on both sides of aisle demonstrated unity in protesting against high prices of fertlisers and pesticides and what a call-attention notice from three members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N called non-payment of reasonable prices to farmers of their agricultural products.
However, the minister for national food security and research, Sikandar Khan Bosan, pledged to do his utmost to remove their grievances, although he noted that most issues relating to agriculture had been devolved to provinces under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
The minister also assured the house that some method would be found within the next 15 days for the benefits of a Rs20 billion subsidy provided for the agricultural sector in the new budget to reach the community.
“You are talking of 15 days, it could have been done in 15 hours,” Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi told the minister.
Rana Mohammad Hayat Khan, a PML-N member from Punjab whose advocacy of the farmers’ cause received cheers from both sides of the house, blamed low prices of the agricultural produce on a “conspiracy” against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to alienate about 70 per cent of the country’s population dependent on agriculture.
But the minister pointed out that low agricultural prices were an international phenomenon.
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2015