• Key amendment empowers ECP to give poll date without consulting president
• JI lawmaker rejects bill as ‘person-specific’

ISLAMABAD: After its approval from the upper house of parliament, the National Assem­bly on Sunday approved the Elections (Amendment) Act 2023, which empowers the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan to unilaterally fix the date for elections and also limits the lawmakers’ disqualification period to five years with retrospective effect.

The bill, dubbed as ‘person-specific legislation’ by the opposition, would benefit PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and newly-for­med Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP) patron Jahangir Khan Tareen. The two were disqualified for life more than five years ago after a Supreme Court judgement ruled that the disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution was for life.

When it was introduced in the Senate, one of the movers of the amendment, Senator Dilawar Khan, had said that Mr Sharif, Mr Tareen and many politicians from Balochistan would benefit from the law.

After its passage from the National Assembly, the bill requires the final nod of President Dr Arif Alvi, who is presently in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj. Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani is performing duties as acting president in his stead.

The bill was tabled in the lower house by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and JI lawmaker Maulana Akbar Chitrali was the lone lawmaker who opposed its approval.

Mr Chitrali said the bill was devised to “benefit specific personalities”.

“Incorporating proposed amendments in the election commission’s bill was person-specific legislation,” he added.

The JI lawmaker was of the view that no changes can be made in Articles 62 and 63 without amending the Constitution for which a two-thirds majority was needed.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, however, disagreed.

Speaking on Hum News programme ‘Pakistan Tonight’ later in the day, he said the amendment was not specific to Nawaz Sharif.

“It is a separate matter that [the amendment] is applicable to him in the current circumstances,” he pointed out.

Mr Asif opined that lifetime disqualification was against fundamental constitutional rights, saying there were different opinions on the issue from the Supreme Court itself.

Asked about the matter of Mr Sharif’s conviction upon his return, Mr Asif said the PML-N’s legal experts were deliberating on the matter.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, a constitutional expert, said the bill could not abolish the lifetime disqualification of lawmakers and it could be scrapped if challenged in the Supreme Court. He made these remarks in a TV programme.

Disqualification of lawmakers

According to the amendment to Section 232 (Qualifications and Disqualifications) of the Elections Act, a permanent bar or disqualification of a member is against “the letter and spirit of Islam” as well as the Constitution. According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, it was introduced to ensure a “fair trial and due process, and right of appeal and limit the period of disqualification in cases relating to a declaration referred to in paragraph (f) of clause (1) of Article 62”.

“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.

ECP empowerment

The proposed amendment to 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.”

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2023

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