Opposition bid to restrict disqualified persons from holding party office foiled by govt

Published November 21, 2017
Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah speaks in NA. —DawnNews
Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah speaks in NA. —DawnNews

The National Assembly on Tuesday rejected — by a margin of 98 for, 163 against — a bill presented by PPP lawmaker Syed Naveed Qamar that sought to remove Section 203 from the Elections Act 2017.

The clause had allowed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to retake his position as the president of PML-N following his disqualification by the Supreme Court (SC) on grounds that he was not 'honest'.

"Someone who is not sadiq [truthful] and ameen [honest] in the view of the apex court should not be eligible to hold party office," Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi observed while throwing his weight behind the legislation.

He said the rule had been introduced because "a party head controls the party's policies" and criticised Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for allowing it to be dismantled, saying: "It is evident that the incumbent prime minister toes the line of the former prime minister."

"The insertion of Section 203 is a direct confrontation with the Supreme Court and in conflict with the Constitution," he said.

Qureshi also said that any legislation which only facilitates a particular individual cannot be termed "good legislation". "Your party has been ruling for the past 30 years. Isn't there one person [in your party] who is eligible [to head it] according to Article 62 [of the Constitution]?" he asked.

"Can you not even trust your brother? Can you not trust a senior parliamentarian like Nisar Ali Khan?" Qureshi added.

Opposing the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said the real irony was that those belonging to the party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were opposing a move similar to one condoned by him.

He explained that the conditions for disqualification of political personality had been introduced through Section 5 of the Political Parties Act of 1962.

"When Bhutto came into power, the said article was removed in 1975 and no one objected until 2000," Hamid said.

"In 2000, [then] President Musharraf introduced the Political Parties Order 2000 because he wanted to keep Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out," the law minister claimed.

He also recalled that none of the parties had objected when a committee and a sub-committee of the parliament looking into the Elections Act had suggested removing the provisions related to disqualification.

"The suggestions [of the sub-committee] went to the committee and a report was published. It was presented before this house and in the Senate. Everyone saw it and no one objected," Hamid recalled, adding that all of this happened before the Panama Papers had seen the light of day.

Hamid instead turned the tables and said that it was the amendment presented to parliament by the opposition that was person-specific, rather than the one the government had presented and approved after a proper review by a parliamentary committee and all political parties.

"If legislation is brought to benefit a single person the country's system is adversely affected," Naveed Qamar stated in response.

“If the bill does not pass [today], it will need to be presented before a joint session, since it has already been approved by the Senate,” he said.

Speaking before the law minister, PPP lawmaker Dr Azra Afzal said: "For one person, this house gets full; but it’s a disgrace that the house is empty when a proper and meaningful resolution is in order."

She was referring to the continued absence of lawmakers in large numbers from both houses of the parliament, which has thwarted legislation on key issues, including the passage of a constitutional amendment that will enable the upcoming general elections to be held on the basis of the provisional results of the 2017 census.

Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah added some sharp criticism of the law minister: "I pity Zahid Hamid," he began. "From 2002 to 2007, this man would defend Musharraf in the same manner as he is defending Nawaz Sharif today."

He, too, was quick to appreciate the unusually high attendance.

"The presence of members in the house increases its stature," Shah said dryly.

Also speaking on the occasion, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said the PML-N was fighting the battle for democracy in the country.

"We will not allow a handful of people to decide the fate of 210 million people," he said in defence of his party's decision to stick with Nawaz as the only choice for its leadership.

After the assembly's business on the bill was done and dusted, the ousted prime minister's daughter sent out a Tweet that stated that Nawaz Sharif was not "one person" but an "ideology".

"One man. One man. One man," Maryam Nawaz began. "Everybody came together to 'minus' one man [from the political order] but they couldn't be successful because he was not one man."

"You cannot 'minus' an ideology," she added.

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