ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Friday passed a bill seeking to limit the disqualification of lawmakers to five years with retrospective effect, a move rejected by the opposition as “person-specific legislation”.
The wraps were pulled off the cleverly drafted law in yet another dramatic move, after a bill originally seeking to empower the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to unilaterally announce the date for general elections, without having to consult the president, landed in the Senate through a supplementary agenda.
The bill was introduced by Minister of State for Law Shahadat Awan on behalf of the minister for parliamentary affairs after the suspension of rules and was taken up for consideration at once.
The amendment related to abolishing the legislation of lifetime disqualification was introduced in the upper house by Senators Hafiz Abdul Karim and Dilawar Khan, on their behalf and on behalf of a group of senators, mainly from Balochistan.
Proposed legislation would allow election watchdog to give poll date sans consultation; sets five-year maximum period for disqualified lawmakers
Explaining the bill before the amendment was moved, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar explained that under the original law of 1976, the ECP had the mandate to fix the date for general elections, but after the imposition of martial law in 1977, the then military ruler Ziaul Haq gave this power to the president through an ordinance.
He said an anomaly in the law had been highlighted by the ECP and the issue was deliberated upon by a joint parliamentary committee, which by consensus cleared the bill. He said the Elections Act would be applicable where the Constitution was silent.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Shahzad Waseem, however, opposed the move and made it clear that constitutional provisions could not be changed through simple legislation. He said the Constitution was clear on the issue of power for announcing the election date.
He said the Constitution also specified the timelines of 60 and 90 days for elections after completion of the term or dissolution, respectively, and any date after that period would be a violation of the Constitution.
“Keeping in view the ECP’s performance, the passage of the law would be a joke with the Constitution,” he said and described the bill as a move to sideline the Constitution through ambiguous legislation.
The law minister agreed that the Constitution was the supreme law, but said it drew a broader line and spoke through the subordinate legislation.
It was after this debate that an amendment to limit the disqualification for five years, where not specified by law, was moved in the House, sparking another war of words.
One of the movers of the amendment, Dilawar Khan, said former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, former federal minister Jehangir Tareen and many politicians from Balochistan would benefit from the law.
The opposition was asked not to oppose the legislation, with a warning that “this sword might be used against Imran Khan as well”.
Mr Waseem expressed alarm over what he called a “person-specific legislation” because of its retrospective effect.
Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami also opposed the bill and said there was no ambiguity in Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. He alleged that the government wanted to render qualification and disqualification clauses ineffective gradually.
However, Mr Tarar said it was parliament’s mandate to legislate and no other institution could perform this function. “This is not the court’s mandate to usurp the parliament’s right and write the Constitution,” he said.
The proposed amendment to the Section 57(1) of the Elections Act read: “The commission shall announce the date or dates of the general elections by notification in the official gazette and shall call upon the constituencies to elect their representatives.”
The amendment to Section 58 read: “Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 57, the commission may at any time after the issuance of notification under subsection (1) of that section make such alterations in the election programme announced in that notification for the different stages of the election or may issue a fresh election programme with a fresh poll date(s) as may in its opinion to be recorded in writing be necessary for the purposes of this act.”
Disqualification of lawmakers
A copy of the bill presented in the Senate on Friday also included an amendment to Section 232 (Qualifications and Disqualifications) of the Election Act, 2017.
“Notwithstanding anything contained in any other provision of this Act, any other law for the time being in force and judgement, order or decree of any court, including the Supreme Court and a high court, the disqualification of a person to be elected, chosen or to remain as a member of the Parliament or provincial assembly under paragraph (f) of clause (1) of Article 62 of the Constitution shall be for a period not exceeding five years from the declaration of the court of law in that regard and such declaration shall be subject to the due process of law,” it stated.
The amendment added that the procedure, manner and duration of disqualifications and qualifications should be as specifically provided for in relevant provisions of Articles 63 and 64 of the Constitution.
“Where no such procedure, manner or duration has been provided for therein, the provisions of this Act shall apply,” it added.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2023