ISLAMABAD: The Senate is set to take up on Monday a crucial opposition bill seeking an amendment to the recently-passed Elections Act, 2017, with an aim to repeal the controversial clause that allows a person ineligible to be elected as a lawmaker to become an office-bearer of a political party.

The bill, titled the Elections Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017, is part of the 48-point agenda issued by the Senate Secretariat for the opening day of the autumn session of the Upper House of parliament.

The bill had jointly been submitted to the Senate Secretariat earlier this month by Taj Haider, Saleem Mandviwala and Mukhtiar Ahmed Dhamra of the PPP; Syed Shibli Faraz, Azam Khan Swati, Mohsin Aziz, Nauman Wazir Khattak, Liaquat Khan Tarakai, retired Brig John Kenneth Williams and Samina Saeed of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf; Kamil Ali Agha of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q and Sirajul Haq of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

If the opposition parties are serious in pursuing the amendment, they will have to ensure the presence of a maximum number of their members in Senate on Monday: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani will put the motion for the bill to a vote if the government opposes its introduction.

Taking advantage of its numerical strength, the PML-N had earlier this month bulldozed the Elections Act, 2017, through the National Assembly and had it assented to by President Mamnoon Hussain within hours.

Four parties seek to bar a person from holding party office if he is ineligible to become lawmaker

The law was passed to allow the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N to re-elect former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as its chief. In July, the Supreme Court, in its verdict in the Panama Papers case, had disqualified Sharif from becoming a lawmaker.

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

A number of petitions have already been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the said provision of the Elections Act. The PPP is one of the petitioners.

Opposition strategy

Talking to Dawn on Sunday, PPP’s parliamentary leader Taj Haider said that learning from the past they had this time chalked out a strategy to ensure the presence of maximum number of its members in the house when the movers would be seeking permission for tabling the bill.

Mr Haider said they also planned to hold a meeting of the joint opposition before the session to devise a strategy. The PPP leader said he had been contacting individually every opposition member so that they could succeed not only in the introduction of the bill, but for its passage the same day.

Mr Haider was of the view that there was no need for sending the bill to any standing committee as enough discussion had already taken place on the issue on the floor of the house. He said the opposition would press the chairman to get the bill passed without referring it to the committee. He said if the government insisted on sending the bill to the committee, they would ask the chairman to decide the matter through a vote.

He expressed the hope that they would succeed in their move this time. He recalled that during the previous session, the Senate had already passed a resolution with 52-28 votes against the same controversial provision in the act introduced by the government only to benefit the ousted prime minister.

The government had last month managed the passage of the Elections Act, 2017, from the Senate with an amendment to a clause of the Political Parties Order, paving the way for the re-election of Nawaz Sharif as the PML-N president.

The government had managed to get the law passed from the opposition-dominated Senate due to division within the ranks of the opposition parties and their failure to devise a proper strategy to block the bill. Leader of Opposition in the Senate Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan had moved the same amendment to the bill at the time of its passage, but the treasury members defeated it through voting when a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) also supported the government.

Mr Haider agreed that when the bill had come for voting in the Senate last month, the opposition parties could not formulate a strategy. He regretted that MQM Senator Ateeq Shaikh voted against the opposition-moved amendment, thus providing the government an opportunity to get the bill sailed through the house.

During the previous session, the Senate had adopted a resolution stating that a person ineligible to be elected as lawmaker should not become office-bearer of a political party. The resolution had been moved by Mr Ahsan of the PPP and it was supported by other opposition parties.

Mr Ahsan had pointed out that an anomalous situation had arisen in the country wherein a person who was disqualified to be a member of parliament could continue to be an office-bearer, even the head of a political party.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid had termed the resolution mala fide and noted that even holding a discussion on it should not be allowed.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2017

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