ISLAMABAD: Law Minister Zahid Hamid on Tuesday vociferously defended the controversial Elections Act 2017, saying that it was meant to neither benefit ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, nor repeal the Khatm-i-Naboowat laws.

“The bill was proposed in 2014, well before Panamagate surfaced. There is no question of it being passed to benefit one man (Nawaz Sharif),” the law minister told the National Assembly.

He said a total of 111 meetings of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms and its subcommittees were held, adding that these were attended by representatives of all parliamentary parties. However, no one raised any objections to the bill at that time.

“If parliamentary parties had any such objections, why did they not raise them during the meeting? Some dissenting notes were given by certain opposition members in the last meeting, but they were not related to the amendments that they are opposing now,” he said.

“A total of 631 proposals were given by parliamentary parties during marathon meetings, but not a single one was against the removal of the clause that the convicted person can be a head of political party,” he added.

Law minister insists no changes made to Khatm-i-Naboowat provisions

In fact, he said, the government had amended the controversial 40-year-old Political Parties Act of 1962, first introduced by Gen Ayub Khan.

Mr Hamid asked why the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had opposed the bill and raised a hue and cry over it, saying that the law was not touched by anyone for 25 years.

It was later amended by another dictator, Gen Musharraf in 2000, who used it against former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

“We have clubbed eight different laws to make a consensus document but instead of giving us credit, the opposition is opposing it,” Mr Hamid concluded.

Khatm-i-Naboowat laws

The law minister asserted that the government had not made any amendment to the Khatm-i-Naboowat laws, but the opposition and media were insisting that the government had repealed them. Reading clauses of the newly-passed election bill, he categorically said there had been no change in the laws dealing with the finality of prophethood of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).

Opposition members claimed the wording of form-A, which is submitted at the time of election by candidates, had been changed and made into a declaration form instead of an affidavit, where candidates were put under oath.

In the new form-A, the words “I solemnly swear” have been replaced with “I believe” and the clause related to Khatm-i-Naboowat has not been made applicable to non-Muslim candidates.

The law minister said that under the new bill, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would frame its own laws within certain parameters that were outlined in the bill.

However, opposition members such as Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami and Ali Mohammad Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf urged the government to immediately make another amendment to ‘ratify’ the Khatm-i-Naboowat laws.

Meanwhile, the federal cabinet also took notice of allegations that the government had repealed the Khatm-i-Naboowat laws.

Sources said the cabinet was of the view that an unnecessary hue and cry was being raised by certain elements among the opposition and the media.

Terming the reports regarding the abolition of Khatm-i-Naboowat laws as “mere propaganda”, the cabinet stressed the need to end the confusion in this regard once and for all.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2017

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