Bill rushed thru NA to make Sharif party chief

Updated October 03, 2017

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Islamabad: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi attends the PML-N Central Working Committee meeting 
on Monday.
Islamabad: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi attends the PML-N Central Working Committee meeting on Monday.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakis­tan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took full advantage of its position as the ruling party on Monday as President Mamnoon Hussain signed the controversial Election Act 2017 into law hours after it was bulldozed through the National Assembly amid pandemonium on the opposition benches.

The law was passed to allow the party to re-elect the disqualified former prime minister as party chief, on the eve of a party convention called for the express purpose of electing Nawaz Sharif to the post.

The party also reposed its complete confidence in Mr Sharif’s leadership when members of its Central Working Committee (CWC) also approved an amendment to the party constitution, removing the bar on disqualified members from contesting the election to any party office.

The bill was cleared by the lower house within minutes amidst ugly scenes, as opposition members gathered around the speaker’s pod­ium, chanting slogans, tearing up copies of the bill and flinging them towards the dais.

Opposition members tear up copies of law amid ruckus

The bill was introduced before the Maghreb prayer break by Law Minister Zahid Hamid and after the interlude, the speaker allowed members to speak on it. Almost all opposition parties asked the government to revisit the contentious section 203, warning that it could be challenged in a court of law.

Unmoved by the protests, the speaker proceeded with a swift clause-by-clause reading of the bill. After all amendments moved by the Jamaat-i-Islami were conveniently rejected, the bill took only minutes to pass.

The original bill passed by the National Assembly had been adopted by the Senate with amendments, but the amendment to section 203, sought by the opposition members in the National Assembly, was defeated in the upper due to the opposition’s ill-preparedness.

Seven of eight MQM senators were not present in the house at the time of voting, while the lone remaining member surprised many by joining hands with the government in opposing the amendment. Besides, two of the seven PTI members were also not present. Prominent among the opposition senators who did not turn up on the day also included Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq, Mushahid Hussain Sayed (PML-Q) and Rehman Malik (PPP).

One after the other, parliamentary leaders rose to oppose the person-specific amendment. Pakistan Peoples Party’s Syed Naveed Qamar and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi cautioned against bulldozing it.

“Heavens will not fall if Nawaz Sharif does not become party president. After all, he is the one who has picked Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister and has appointed ministers of his choice,” remarked Mr Qamar.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed warned that enacting a person-specific law would be dangerous, saying: “The final nail is being driven into the coffin of democracy.”

Government ally Mehmood Khan Ackazai was the lone speaker to defend the controversial clause, saying that things were not the way they were being presented.

He said that in the past, there had been indications that Shahbaz Sharif was acceptable but Nawaz Sharif was not. “Who are these forces?” asked the lawmaker known for his pro-democracy soliloquies.

The ruling party had also summoned its own meetings on Monday to make necessary changes to the party constitution. First, the CWC meeting held at Punjab House hours after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appeared in court, unanimously approved a resolution moved by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal in his capacity as the party’s acting secretary general, allowing for Sharif to return as party chief.

Mr Sharif, who was in Punjab House at the time of the CWC meeting, did not attend, while Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was also absent. However, the former minister visited Punjab House later in the evening and also met Mr Sharif, sources said.

The same was formally approved by members of the party’s general council, which met later the same night at the Convention Centre in Islamabad, where Khawaja Saad Rafique announced the news that the newly-passed election law had been signed by the president.

This prompted celebrations and dancing in the aisles as overjoyed PML-N workers celebrated their victory. The council will meet again this morning (Tuesday) to formally re-elect Mr Sharif as the head of the party.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2017