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Senate approved bill to bar disqualified person from heading political party

24 October, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: The Upper House of Parliament on Monday approved a bill seeking amendment to clause 203 of the recently passed electoral reforms law – that paved way for disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif to regain presidency of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – to once again bar a disqualified person from heading a political party.

The Clause 203 of the Election Act 2017 pertains to membership of political parties, which allows every citizen to have the right to form or be a member or office-bearer of a political party, despite the person being out of the service of Pakistan. However, the amendment bill passed by the Senate suggests that a person who is not eligible to become a member of the parliament cannot head a political party either.

The amended bill proposed by the opposition was vehemently opposed by the government with Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid expressing serious reservations while asserting that the opposition was taking an unconstitutional step. Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani then sought a vote on the introduction of the bill. The opposition managed to bag 46 votes in favour of the bill against the treasury’s 21. Later, the bill was passed with a clear majority of 49 to 18.

Shibli Faraz of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) presented the bill. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) voted in favour of the bill.

Last month, the opposition parties in the Senate had been unable to the stop the passage of the Elections Bill 2017 despite their combined majority.

On October 11, the Upper House had also passed a resolution on the same matter. The resolution, presented by Leader of Opposition in Senate Aitzaz Ahsan, had stated that a person who was not eligible to become a member of the parliament or had been disqualified could not lead a political party.

PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan reacted to the development, saying such a resolution, which calls for distancing a leader from its people, meant nothing to them. He added that the passage of the amended bill meant “Bhuttoism has lost” and “Musharraf and Ayubism have won”.

The amendment bill will now be presented in the National Assembly, where it is likely to be rejected as the PML-N enjoys majority in the Lower House.

The ruling senators termed the passage of the bill as ‘great setback’ to democracy while the opposition senators called it a ‘big success’. The opposition senators claimed that the PML-N had changed the law just to protect one person – Nawaz Sharif.

Subsequent to the enactment of Elections Act, 2017, an anomalous situation has arisen in Pakistan wherein a person disqualified to be a member of parliament can become an office-bearer, including the head, of any political party. This may enable an unelected person, who is disqualified by a court of competent jurisdiction to be a member of parliament, to determine the policies and take decisions of any party from outside the parliament, revealed objects and reasons of the bill passed by the opposition. It further said that the parliament itself was thus exposed to become hostage to a person who himself was barred from entering it.

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