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National Assembly annuls Musharraf-era ‘mischief’

March 13, 2013

Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf speaks at a news conference. — Photo by AP/File

ISLAMABAD: With its time ticking by, the National Assembly moved with lightning speed on Tuesday to strike off a perceived Musharraf-era ‘mischief’ from an electoral law and exempt politicians from personally delivering their nomination papers to returning officers.

While only four days were left of its five-year term, and possibly only a day or two of its present session, the house also did a quick work of two pending private bills — one to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and care institutions and the other to promote reproductive healthcare rights of men and women — which were passed unanimously.

But the alacrity seen in bringing and adopting only a hand-written draft of a private bill with the consent of all major political parties for an amendment to the Representation of People Act, 1976, and delete an article of a 2002 decree of then military president Pervez Musharraf was rare.

After some hectic consultations between key lawmakers on the two sides of the aisle, rules were suspended to allow an immediate introduction of the bill although it was not on the day’s agenda, and it was voted upon without being referred for vetting to a house standing committee concerned.

The mover of what was called the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013, Zahid Hamid of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), said his amendment sought to undo changes made by Gen Musharraf to prevent both his party’s chief Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto from standing as candidates while they were in foreign exile by making it mandatory for candidates to personally deliver their nomination papers to returning officers.

But Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek, while supporting the bill, mentioned only the late Ms Bhutto as the target of Gen Musharraf’s amendment, probably keeping in mind a deal the PML-N leader had struck with the general who had toppled him as prime minister in a 1999 coup, to refrain from taking part in politics for 10 years in exchange for being released from prison and sent in exile to Saudi Arabia.

The amendment, which must also be passed by the Senate to become law, to restore the pre-2002 position says: “Every nomination paper shall be delivered to the returning officer by the candidate or by his proposer or seconder or, if so authorised in writing by the candidate, by his nominee, and the returning officer shall acknowledge receipt of the nomination paper specifying the date and time of receipt.”

It also omits a related article in the Conduct of General Elections, 2002, Order issued by Gen Musharraf in his position as chief executive.

As support for the amendment also came from some other lawmakers, including Education and Training Minister Sheikh Waqqas Akram of the PML-Q and Wasim Akhtar of the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the law minister said he hoped the bill would be passed by the Senate as well in the next two to three days — although it was later put on the Senate agenda for Wednesday — so it doesn’t lapse with the National Assembly’s automatic dissolution with the completion if its tenure on Saturday.

The only “no” in the voice vote on the bill came from a PPP dissident, Syed Nasir Ali Shah, from Quetta who was protesting at the time over his allegations of not being fully heard by the chair and an unexplained bill of his not taken up for a year and a half.

Corporal punishment Of the two other private bills authored by PML-Q’s Attiya Inayatullah and adopted by the house, the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment Bill provides for “the protection of children against corporal punishment in all types of educational institutions, including formal and non-formal, both public and private, and in childcare institutions, including foster care and any other alternative care setting, both public and private”.

Penalties under this law, which will override all other laws now in force, will include -- among minors ones -- withholding promotion or increment, stopping promotion and recovery from pay of any pecuniary loss, and — among major ones — reduction to lower post or time-scale, compulsory retirement, removal and dismissal from service.

Dr Inayatullah’s second draft — the Reproductive Healthcare and Rights Bill — with her party colleague Donya Aziz as co-sponsor, seeks to give, according to its statement of objects and reasons, legal status to what it called the “principal” Islamic-ordained right to life “because in Pakistan, on average 80 women die every day because of pregnancy-related complications”.

“This bill seeks to promote the reproductive healthcare rights of men and women and to redress the complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, which are among the leading causes and consequence of mortality and morbidity for women of reproductive age…”

Another private bill of Ms Aziz to provide for a charter of child rights was first deferred in the middle of its consideration over an unexplained objection from the law minister and when the chair called for its reconsideration later, lack of quorum forced an adjournment of the house until 5pm on Wednesday.

But before that, the house adopted a resolution she moved with four other co-sponsors of different parties, condemning the practice of corporal punishment and calling upon caregivers in institutions such as hospices and orphanages as well as educational institutions, including schools and madressahs, to refrain from physically reprimanding children.

At the start of the day, Speaker Fehmida Mirza informed the house of Senate messages about several bills adopted by the Senate after passage by the lower house, and about a Constitution amendment bill the upper house passed last week seeking creation of a new Bahawalpur Janoobi Punjab province from Punjab, which appears destined to die if with the dissolution of the National Assembly which seems in no position to pass it with the required two-thirds majority.