ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee on Thursday approved a bill that will enable a member of parliament to vote on a constitutional amendment bill according to their conscience, instead of party directions.

The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice met to consider the amendment to Article 63A of the Constitution that is about the disqualification of a lawmaker on grounds of defection.

The bill was moved by PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar following the passage of the controversial amendment extending the period of military courts for another two years in January this year.

A number of PPP legislators were opposed to the move to extend the life of the military courts but had to vote in favour following their party’s policy and fearing disqualification.

Under the current provision of Article 63A, the member of a parliamentary party stands disqualified if they (a) resign from membership of their party or join another political party, or (b) vote or abstain from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which they belong, in relation to (i) election of the prime minister or the chief minister, or (ii) a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence, or (iii) a money bill or a constitutional amendment bill.

In the proposed amendment, the words ‘constitutional amendment bill’ were deleted.

“The existing provision negates the spirit of the Constitution and the supremacy of the parliament,” said Senator Babar.

PPP Senator Farooq Naek believed that the proposed amendment should be applicable to all sections of Article 63A

such as the money bill and vote of confidence and no-confidence.

“Lawmakers should be allowed to vote according to their conscience to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution,” he said. However, PML-N Senator Nehal Hashmi objected to further amendments.

Committee chairman Senator Mohammad Javed Abbasi of the PML-N went a step further and said he preferred deleting Article 63A of the Constitution completely. He said the committee would support Senator Babar if he proposed the complete deletion of Article 63A.

The meeting observed that Article 63A was incorporated into the Constitution in the late 1990s by the then Nawaz Sharif government to prevent instability in relation to the formation and functioning of the government.

Making changes to the Constitution, General Pervez Musharraf suspended Article 63A. However, it was later restored.

Nonetheless, the committee observed that if the amendment approved by the committee became a law the disqualification clause would not apply on members who voted on a constitutional amendment against their party directions.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2017

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