ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Friday passed an election bill after rejecting a key amendment proposed by the Pakistan Peoples Party to retain a controversial clause resurrected by retired Gen Pervez Musharraf through the Political Parties Order 2002, paving the way for an otherwise ineligible Nawaz Sharif to head his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League.
The Election Bill 2017 was passed with a majority vote by the Senate through which the legal bar on a person to serve as an office-bearer of a political party if he is either not qualified to be, or disqualified from being, elected as a member of parliament under Article 63 of the Constitution is set to go.
The bill was passed with the help of two opposition parties — the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Balochistan National Party-Mengal — which did not support the opposition during the voting process.
Since the bill, already passed by the National Assembly, has been passed with amendments by the upper house, it will go to the NA again and, in all probability, the lower house of parliament will approve it.
Friday was full of surprises for the PPP as it continued to face embarrassments one after the other in an otherwise opposition-dominated house.
When Law Minister Zahid Hamid sought consideration of the bill, the PPP opposed it, but the house accorded permission with a majority vote of 41 against 34, marking first defeat of the opposition in the house.
The opposition appeared to be ill-prepared as its members were absent during the important legislative business, and at times some members from the opposition voted in favour of the treasury and on at least one occasion, the PPP itself was divided during voting.
Section 5(1) of the Political Parties Order, which still holds the field, reads: “Every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan has the right to form or be a member of a political party or be otherwise associated with a political party or take part in political activities or be elected as an office-bearer of a political party.”
A proviso to the clause reads: “Provided that a person shall not be appointed or serve as an office-bearer of a political party if he is not qualified to be, or is disqualified from being, elected or chosen as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) under Article 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or under any other law for the time being in force.”
The proviso was simply struck off in the bill already introduced in and passed by the National Assembly on Aug 22 after ex-PM Sharif’s disqualification on July 28.
It went unnoticed even when the bill was considered by the Senate standing committee on law, but when the process for passage of the bill started in the house on Friday, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan sought an amendment to Clause 203 (1) relating to membership of political parties by proposing addition of the proviso “provided that the person shall not be appointed or serve as an office-bearer of a political party if he is not qualified to be, or is disqualified from being, elected or chosen as a member of the parliament under any law for the time being in force”.
Expressing disappointment over the move by Aitzaz Ahsan, the law minister said that the controversial clause providing for such a bar on holding party offices was first introduced in a dictatorial regime through the Political Parties Act, 1965. It was removed in 1975 when a democratic government led by the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in power, he added.
He said the Political Parties Order 2002 brought back the particular provision. He said disqualification was meant to be used against opposition parties. He said the Political Parties Order was considered in a meeting held on Nov 17, 2014 and a member of the PPP suggested the removal of the said clause and the PML-N had accepted it. “There was no mention of Panama Papers, let’s throw our principles to the winds,” an angry Zahid Hamid said on one occasion.
Calling for getting rid of remnants of dictatorship, he urged the opposition not to adopt a short-sighted approach and drop the amendment forthwith.
The chair asked the members to rise in their seats for voting in favour or against the legislation.
However, a controversy surrounded the procedure as the vote of PPP Senator Sassui Palejo, who was present in the house but not in her seat at the time of voting, was not counted. Before the vote count was announced the opposition pointed out that the vote of two treasury members was counted despite the fact that they were not occupying their seats at the time of voting.
The controversy prompted the presiding officer, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, to order a recount.
The opposition’s amendment was defeated by a mere one vote as the treasury got 38 votes against 37.
A jubilant Zahid Hamid was seen shaking hands with Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq as the treasury members congratulated each other on rejection of the amendment. Treasury members also thanked the opposition members who supported their position.
An unusual happening during the legislative processes was witnessed when an amendment moved by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf senators Azam Khan Swati, Shibli Faraz and Mohsin Aziz requiring the electoral candidates to submit wealth statements including assets and liabilities of their spouses was sought to be re-amended by the law minister.
“How can I allow you to amend an amendment passed minutes earlier?,” Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani asked. But on the insistence of the law minister, he said under the relevant rules it was his discretion to allow or disallow this. He said he left the matter to the house to decide. The house allowed the law minister to move the amendment with a majority vote — 39 against 38 votes.
Three members from the PPP — former Senate chairman Farooq H. Naek, Fateh Muhammad Hasni and Rubina Khalid — did not follow the line of the rest of the members including the opposition leader. Mr Rabbani left the session when his view was rejected by the house with a majority vote.
The opposition senators staged a walkout against what they called attempts to bulldoze the system and announced staying away from the proceedings till the Senate chairman came to chair the session. However, they later changed their mind after some of the amendments proposed by PTI members were dropped due to the absence of movers.
The chair disallowed Hafiz Hamdullah and another from moving an amendment seeking to revoke a clause under which polls can be declared null and void if the women votes are less than 10 per cent. He observed that this was out of the scope of the bill and thus he could not allow the amendment to be moved.
The house also approved an amendment that defines ‘asset’ as any property owned or held by a candidate or a member.
The session was prorogued sine die.