ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday revealed its plans to amend constitutional provisions dealing with the qualifications and disqualifications for members of parliament, the legislative agenda announced by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif during his recent GT Road rally.
The revelation came on a day that also saw the passage of a landmark election law from the National Assembly, after the incorporation of over 40 amendments proposed by the opposition.
The matter came up during debate on amendments proposed by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmaker Sheikh Salahuddin who sought an amendment to section 231 of the bill, which reads: “The qualifications and disqualifications for a person to be elected or chosen or to remain a member of the parliament or a provincial assembly shall be such as provided in Articles 62 and 63 [of the Constitution].”
He wanted to add the words “but the effect of disqualification under [Articles] 62 and 63 shall not exceed five years” at the end of the clause, not realising that this would require a constitutional amendment.
Responding to the MQM MNA’s demand, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said the matter would be discussed and decided by the parliamentary panel on electoral reforms.
He was of the view that the effect of the disqualification should be less than even five years, requesting the MNA to withdraw the amendment, which he did.
NA passes Election Bill 2017 amid PTI walkout
Amending the constitutional provisions dealing with parliamentarians’ qualifications was one of the former prime minister’s main concerns during his rally from Islamabad to Lahore, earlier this month.
The Constitution, Mr Sharif had insisted, would have to be amended in order to protect the sanctity of the vote — a reference to the controversial provisions that became the basis for his disqualification from office last month.
The passage of the Elections Bill 2017 was marred by a walkout by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), after four of their key demands did not find mention in the amended version of the bill.
The demands included the reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) before the next general elections, the selection of caretaker officials by a parliamentary panel, the introduction of biometric verification at polling stations, and the implementation of the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis.
Certain opposition reservations were addressed when the law minister agreed to some of their suggestions at the last minute. A clause providing for the disqualification of a lawmaker belonging to a dissolved political party was amended after the opposition said it might be misused against political opponents.
In the original draft, lawmakers belonging to a political party dissolved by the government for allegedly being foreign-aided were to stand disqualified for the remaining term unless they resigned from the political party before the final decision of the Supreme Court.
Under the amended bill, they will have 15 days to dissociate themselves from the party after the final judgement of the apex court.
The rejected amendments included the deletion of the clause seeking the disclosure of the name of any person donating over Rs100,000 to a political party, fixing of an election expense limit for a political party at Rs100 million or Rs50m, and the conduct of Senate elections on a party list-system.
The Elections Bill 2017 provides for complete financial and administrative autonomy and independence of the Election Commission.
The new law empowers the commission to suspend or withdraw any election official or public servant who attempts to obstruct or prevent the conduct of fair and impartial polls, tries to interfere with a voter when he casts his vote, attempts to influence the polling staff or a voter, or disobeys any instructions issued by the ECP.
The bill provides for the automatic enrolment of voters upon being issued a CNIC upon attaining the age of 18 years.
To check mushroom growth of political parties the bill makes it mandatory for a new party to have at least 2,000 members and deposit a registration fee of Rs200,000.
If the turnout of women voters is less than 10pc, the ECP may void the polling at one or more polling stations or in the whole constituency.
The bill increases the limit of election expenses to Rs4 million for National Assembly, Rs2m for provincial assemblies and Rs1.5m for the Senate seats.
In case of failure to file an annual wealth statement, the ECP may suspend the membership of a legislator and after the lapse of 60 days, it will issue a show-cause notice for the termination of that lawmaker’s membership.
Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2017