ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Thursday passed the 22nd amendment bill, changing the eligibility criteria for the chief election commissioner (CEC) and four members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
As many as 71 members voted for the constitution amendment bill after a number of senators, both opposition and treasury members, lashed out at the government for not giving them sufficient time to review the law, which had already been passed by the National Assembly.
Thanks to the amendment, “civil servants” and “technocrats” have now become eligible for appointment as the CEC and ECP members, in addition to serving or retired judges of the superior courts.
The bill has set an age limit of 68 years for the CEC and 65 years for the ECP members. Besides this, two of the four ECP members this year will have to retire after completion just half of their five-year term and lots will be drawn to determine who will be the ones to retire early.
House witnesses controversy over numbers
During a general debate on the bill after it was presented by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, senators criticised the government for tabling the bill at the eleventh hour, as four ECP members were about to retire in a week’s time, leaving them with no option but to vote for it.
Pointing out a number of flaws in the bill, senators called it a “poorly-drafted law”, but said they had to vote for the bill because they had made a commitment with the government and agreed with its basic objectives.
Despite its passage from both houses of parliament, experts believe that with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recovering from his surgery it will be nearly impossible for the government and opposition to reach a consensus on names of new appointees before the retirement of the incumbent ECP members.
The government had convened the Senate session on Thursday — between the president’s address to a joint sitting of parliament and the presentation of the federal budget — to ensure the presence of a maximum number of members in order to ensure the passage of the constitution amendment.
Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan said the opposition had certain objections to the bill, but they had decided to vote for it “under compulsion” since the incumbent members of the ECP were set to retire on June 10.
Former law minister Babar Awan regretted that the members were passing the bill under the “doctrine of necessity”.
MQM’s Tahir Mashhadi said “hurried legislation” was always considered “bad legislation”.
ANP’s Shahi Syed staged a walkout from the house in protest, saying that he would not vote for the bill. However, he later returned to the house and even voted for the bill alongside other members of his party.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who is head of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms which prepared the bill, dispelled the impression that it was being imposed on the Senate, saying that it had been unanimously passed by the representatives of all political parties in the 34-member parliamentary committee following lengthy deliberations. The committee, he said, had 11 members from the Senate.
The passage of the amendment bill also witnessed a controversy. The presence of at least 70 senators is required in the 104-member house for the passage of a constitution amendment. However, the decision of Senator Mohsin Leghari during a clause-by-clause review to oppose three clauses of the bill due to the rejection of his proposed amendments made the process controversial.
Chairman Raza Rabbani announced that 69 members had voted in support of clauses 2, 4 and 5 of the bill, whereas one member had cast his vote against them.
Mr Awan later told reporters that the bill had been passed “unconstitutionally” as votes on three clauses of the bill remained less than the required two-thirds strength of the house.
Later, members took part in a debate on the drone attack in Balochistan that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour. Besides condemning the US for violating the country’s sovereignty, opposition senators questioned the presence of Mullah Mansour on Pakistani soil, with a Pakistani passport and CNIC.
They asked the government to say clearly whether the US was a friend or foe and alleged that the US wanted to sabotage the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan through such attacks.
Winding up the debate, PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said the government had decided to raise the issue of drone attacks at the International Human Rights Council.
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2016