PML-N's move seeking 'unbridled powers' for caretakers hits snag

Two major allies of PML-N, along with PTI oppose controversial clause of Election (Amendment) Bill, 2023

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PPPs Raza Rabbani and PTIs Ali Zafar speak during the joint session of parliament on July 25, 2023. —NA Twitter
PPP's Raza Rabbani and PTI's Ali Zafar speak during the joint session of parliament on July 25, 2023. —NA Twitter
  • Opposition to election bill comes even before its tabling. 
  • Law minister defends amendment saying it meant to ensure IMF conditions. 
  • Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf defers consideration of bill till Thursday.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) move seeking unbridled powers for caretakers hit a snag at a joint session of the parliament, when the two key members of the ruling coalition, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), along with rival Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), challenged the controversial clause of the Election (Amendment) Bill, 2023, The News reported.

The opposition to the clause empowering the caretaker setup to take major administrative and economic decisions came even before its tabling in the house.

After the JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza said that his party was not in favour of the amendment in Section 230 of the bill, PPP senators Mian Raza Rabbani, Taj Haider, Jamat-e-Islami's (JI) Mushtaq Ahmad Khan and PTI's Ali Zafar also pointed out that the controversial clause was not discussed at the parliamentary committee’s meeting.

“I want to put this on record that I was not absent even for a minute from the meeting and the amendment was not taken up there,” Taj Haider said.

Meanwhile, Senator Raza Rabbani maintained that he was not against other clauses of the bill but he strongly opposes the insertion of clause 2A, which amends Section 230 of the Election Act, 2017.

He also pointed out that it was clearly mentioned in the law and verdicts of superior courts that the role of caretakers was very limited and totally different from the elected government. 

He said the caretaker government was meant to take care of the day-to-day affairs of the country and hold fair and free elections.

“In the caretaker setup, the government does not go to cold storage, rather it goes slow for the reason that caretakers are unelected,” he said.

Rabbani strongly objected to the addition of the words “on urgent matters” after "day-to-day matters" in Clause 230(a) of the Elections Act, 2017, which says the caretaker government shall perform its functions to attend to day-to-day matters which are necessary to run the affairs of the government.

He said the words “urgent matters” have a very vague and vast meaning, which reflects the government wants unbridled powers for the caretaker government which was not even elected.

JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza was of the view that they could not support legislation against the Constitution.

The senator said as per the Constitution, a caretaker government could not take major decisions.

“In clause 2A, which is being inserted in the bill, the caretakers are being empowered to take economic decisions which can have impacts for 30 years,” he said adding that he strongly opposed the move and so did his party.

Defending the amendments, Minister for Law Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar said that empowering the caretaker government was meant to ensure the continuity of measures that were agreed upon with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the same could not be put in cold storage.

The minister for law insisted that the proposed amendments in the bill were finalised in consultation with all the political parties represented in the parliament.

Tarar said that a special committee led by Sardar Ayaz Sadiq also held a series of meetings for discussion on the bill. He said the bill was widely circulated in the House many times before and debates were also conducted.

Responding to objections of some members on the inclusion of bills in the agenda of the day without sharing copies with them, Tarar said that some bills were pending for two years and were now included in the order of the day as the government was nearing its end. 

He said the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms has prepared a consensus report for amendments in the Election Act with the aim to ensure transparency in the electoral process.

“We performed this task in the national interest and nothing has been kept under the carpet.”

Senators Raza Rabbani and Ali Zafar proposed that bills containing amendments should be deferred for a day while Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan also objected that the agenda having 25 points, copies of bills and amendments were not provided to him.

Meanwhile, Minister for Defence Khawaja Asif supported the law minister’s statement, affirming that all amendments in the Elections Commission bill were made with the consensus of all political parties present in parliament.

While Minister for Economic Affairs and Political Affairs Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said all amendments and suggestions of members were incorporated into the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2023 adding that the report was prepared after consensus. 

He said Speaker National Assembly Raja Pervez Ashraf and Senate Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani had jointly constituted a committee comprising members from both houses to address election-related issues raised by the parliamentarians and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the report was prepared after detailed deliberation and consensus of all members.

Later, Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf directed to defer eight bills along with the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and give time to the lawmakers for consideration on amendments proposed in them.