Monday, October 02, 2017

NA passes Election Reforms Bill 2017, paves way for Nawaz's return as PML-N president

Opposition members protest the bill, tear copies of it

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Monday passed the Elections Bill 2017, paving way for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to regain chairmanship of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

The bill was also ratified by President Mamnoon Hussain.

A controversial clause in the bill allows politicians disqualified from holding public office to lead political parties. 

Enraged opposition members protested the passing of the bill and tore copies of it after it was presented by Law Minister Zahid Hamid.

Members of the opposition also chanted slogans against Nawaz Sharif.  

Moreover, the amendment to the bill presented by the Jamaat-e-Islami was rejected by the assembly. 

While addressing the National Assembly, Awami Muslim League Chief Sheikh Rasheed had spoken against the bill.

“You are risking the country's democracy over one person," he said, adding “You have attacked the Supreme Court with a rocket launcher.”

Nawaz Sharif does not even want to see his brother [Shehbaz Sharif] as a party leader, he remarked. 

“You can start digging the grave of democracy with your majority,” he said while referring to the PML-N parliamentarians. 

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Shah Mehmood Qureshi remarked that clause 203 of the bill is against the spirit of the country's Constitution. 

The clause seeks to help an unqualified man to become the head of a party, he said, adding that the Supreme Court had also disqualified the person. 

"You [PML-N] have the majority and we are a minority. But, if you pass the bill then we will challenge it in the court. We want clause 203 to be removed and Political Parties' Order must be restored," said Qureshi. 

Responding to Qureshi, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked him "Why didn't you speak when you had the chance?"

PTI leader Shafqat Mahmood remarked that the party was deceived due to the way the bill was presented. 

"Nawaz Sharif was bound to be disqualified because of his corrupt practices," he said.

He further said that the bill should be deferred as opposition won't accept it. 

Petrol prices

On the other hand, Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah spoke about the difficulties being faced by ordinary citizens due to high prices of petrol.

Petrol prices across the world are reducing but not in Pakistan. "This is not a big issue but this is an issue which affects ordinary people," he remarked, adding the government is focusing on just creating difficulties for the normal people.

"The petrol prices are $44 per barrel. Even after adding some taxes it should be no more than Rs66. However, the government is charging 31 per cent sales tax."

“Is it really necessary to charge 31pc tax? If you reduce the GST then the prices won't increase,” he added.

“In all developing nations, governments introduce taxes on a yearly basis. However, we get new taxes every month,” he claimed. 

“Budget should be presented four times in the assembly,” he said, adding that the last time budget was presented, a situation was created that the opposition had no other option than to protest it.

“We have always given importance to this parliament. All problems can be solved in the parliament,” he added.  

Elections Bill 2017

In August, following Nawaz Sharif's disqualification by the Supreme Court, the ECP had informed the PML-N that according to the Political Parties Order 2002, a disqualified MNA cannot hold any position in the party.

Last week, the PML-N managed to amend the Elections Bill 2017 in the opposition-controlled Senate in favour of Nawaz's bid to become the party president. The bill will now be tabled in the Lower House of Parliament, where the PML-N holds a majority, on Monday.

According to the bill, every citizen will have the right to be a part of a political party, except those in government service, and will also have the right to form a party. 

It enables the ECP to scrutinise election expenses within 90 days, failing which election expenses submitted by a political party would be deemed to be correct.

The bill states that any parliamentarian could only be disqualified for a period of five years and that ECP will be an independent and autonomous body, which will formulate its own law, and party funding details will be available online.

It also restricts the caretaker government from making any policy decisions.

During a meeting of Central Working Committee at the Punjab House, the party members endorsed a resolution forwarded by Climate Change Minister Senator Mushahidullah Khan.

The party leaders expressed confidence and reaffirmed their trust on the party leader. They also paid tribute to the former prime minister for his services during his tenure.

Meanwhile, the PML-N has also summoned a meeting of its general council Tuesday to appoint Nawaz as the party's president after his removal from office.

Former senator and the party's chief election commissioner, Chaudhry Jafar Iqbal, will apprise the members of schedule for the election of party president.

It is quite unlikely for any other PML-N member to file his nomination for post.

*An earlier version of the story said that the bill was titled Electoral Reforms Bill 2017. The error is regretted.