Opposition picks holes in Election Bill 2017

Updated August 22, 2017

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Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi shakes hands with Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan in the Senate on Monday.— APP
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi shakes hands with Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan in the Senate on Monday.— APP

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday concluded debate on the country’s future election law, even as opposition members continued to heap scorn on the proposed legislation.

Winding up discussion on the Election Bill 2017, Law Minister Zahid Hamid wondered why this dissent was not expressed during the extensive deliberations by the parliamentary panel on electoral reforms and its sub-committee.

Everybody was now seeking sweeping changes in the law, he said, revealing that as many as 105 amendments had been proposed, of which 44 have been accepted.

He was of the opinion that political parties represented in the parliamentary committee should have taken collective credit for the bill, which had been hammered out after the most extensive and intensive deliberations in the country’s legislative history.

He called for the early passage of the bill to allow the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to start taking necessary steps to ensure that the next general elections were held under new rules.

Over 100 amendments proposed; law minister asks why objections were not raised during exhaustive consultation process

He tried to dispel the impression that no substantive changes had been made and pointed out that the ECP had been given full financial and administrative powers, while clearly defining its judicial face and giving it authority to suspend civil servants deputed to perform election duties.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar described the bill as “too little, too late”. He said very few fundamental issues had been addressed while many had been left out and called for providing a level-playing field to the middle class, saying that the role of money in purchasing votes and influencing results should be ended.

He was of the view that section 212 of the proposed bill, relating to the procedure for the dissolution of a political party, would be used as a tool to settle political scores and opined that it would be a violation of Article 17 of the Constitution.

Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch said that of the 272 direct seats, Balochistan’s share was just 14 and proposed that there should be one seat each for all the 32 districts of the province.

He rejected the allegation, levelled by government ally Mehmood Khan Achakzai, that secret agencies meddled in the elections and the affairs of democratic institutions, cautioning against making such institutions controversial. “Let them do their work which is very important and has nothing to do with you”, he remarked.

Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Shazia Marri said ballot papers with watermarks should be used in the next elections to avoid any controversies and sought discussion on the annulment of the clause that barred dual nationals from contesting elections.

“If you are eligible to vote as a dual national, why can you not run for elections?” she asked.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Dr Arif Alvi demanded the reconstitution of the ECP before the next general elections and said a biometric verification system should be introduced to ensure that fair elections were held. He regretted that no mechanism had yet been put in place to implement the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis, despite a five-year-old Supreme Court order to this effect.

Awami National Party’s Ghulam Ahmad Bilour also endorsed the demand for a biometric verification system, saying that polls could even be delayed for up to a year for this purpose.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah asked the government to provide details of the Rs30bn disbursed among members of the National Assembly in the name of development schemes.

Meanwhile, PTI dissident Ayesha Gulalai used the opportunity to speak about her sexual harassment allegations against PTI Chairman Imran Khan. She asked the Jamaat-i-Islami not to shield the PTI chgief, saying this was a matter of the honour and dignity of the daughters of the nation.

She also called for the house to vote on whether an investigation committee should be formed over her allegations. “Any party which opposes this investigation will regret it,” she remarked.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2017