The government on Monday bulldozed the amended Election Bill 2017 through the National Assembly despite strong protests from opposition lawmakers.

The bill features a controversial amendment that will allow politicians disqualified from holding public office to head a political party.

The bill was passed amidst a ruckus as opposition lawmakers protested what they saw as a law designed to accommodate a single individual — ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Enraged opposition lawmakers tore copies of the bill and threw them onto the speaker's dais as he announced its passage. The president is expected to sign it into law soon.

Salient features of the new election law

  • The requirement that a party's chief be eligible to hold public office has been done away with

  • No MNA can be disqualified for more than 5 years

  • President will be bound to consult the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) before announcing a date for general elections

  • ECP will have the authority to ask the Supreme Court for Returning Officers (ROs)

  • The election commission will have to submit an annual performance report to the parliament

  • The ECP's annual performance report will be presented in NA and provincial assemblies

  • ECP will have the authority to take action against polling staff for any negligence

  • ECP will no longer be allowed to alter nomination papers

  • Candidates will have 28 days for campaigning instead of 21

  • Votes cast by men and women will be counted separately

  • ROs will no longer be authorised to publish additional ballot papers

  • ECP will have the authority to investigate the assets of members of Parliament

  • MNAs will be sentenced to jail for falsified asset declarations

  • Every political party will be bound to hold intra-party elections every 5 years

  • Anyone who takes a picture of the ballot paper or shows his/her vote will be sentenced to two years in jail or Rs0.1 million fine

  • Serving judges will be appointed to election tribunals

Uproar over the bill

Addressing the Lower House of the Parliament before the bill's passage, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's (PTI) senior leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Clause 203 of the legislation, which pertains to the eligibility of persons to hold office in a political party, is "against the spirit of the Constitution."

Clause 203 of the Election Bill 2017
Clause 203 of the Election Bill 2017

Qureshi said that the clause pertaining to the eligibility of parliamentarians to hold party office was being removed solely to protect ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The PTI leader added that omission of the clause ─ which states that any person ineligible to hold office as an MNA is also ineligible to hold the position of head of a political party ─ was contrary to the Consitution as it would allow a disqualified individual to take charge of political affairs of a party.

"The Constitution says that any person not qualified under Article 62 and 63 (cannot hold office)," Qureshi said, adding that the Supreme Court had set precedent on the matter by disqualifying Nawaz under Article 62(1)(f) in the Panama Papers case.

Urging the government to reconsider the bill and include the omitted clause, Qureshi said that if the bill was passed in its present form, his party would approach the courts.

Shortly after Law Minister Zahid Hamid presented the bill before the National Assembly, members of the opposition began shouting slogans against the proceedings and tore up copies of the parliamentary agenda.

"The reality behind Clause 203 has been hidden from us," Jamaat-i-Islami's Sahibzada Tariqullah asid as he presented proposed amendments to the bill.

Tariqullah said that it was condemnable that the legislation could allow a person who had been disqualified by the Supreme Court to hold office

Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid stated that democracy would suffer if the bill was passed.

"This law is being passed for one person," Rasheed said. "I am going to the Supreme Court," he declared.

"We know what games they [the ruling party] are going to play in the country," Rasheed said.

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