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ISLAMABAD: Sceptics had doubted if the Constitutional reforms committee would ever finish its work, pundits had claimed the amendment would never be tabled and doomsday prophets insisted all along that even if tabled the Bill would never be ‘allowed’ to pass. But it all happened on Thursday and the first step in a historic achievement was taken when the National Assembly unanimously passed the 18th Amendment Bill, restoring the Constitution to a near-1973 complexion by undoing various undemocratic amendments pushed through by military dictators who had illegally forced their way into the power corridors.
From political cosmetics to fundamental righting of wrongs, the amendments had it all, including the removal of dictator General Ziaul Haq’s name from the Constitution, declaring General Musharraf’s coup of October 12, 1999 as illegal and unlawful, nullifying the Legal Framework Order 2002. In all, the amendment has amended 102 clauses.
The 18th Amendment Bill was approved by 292 votes in favour through division of the House. The House passed the bill containing 102 clauses, rejecting a few objections moved by the members regarding the Concurrent List, renaming the NWFP, intra-party elections and women seats in the House and within parties.
The House started its proceedings at 11am and passed the bill clause-by-clause, concluding the process at 6:35pm. Adviser to the PM Mian Raza Rabbani moved the bill on behalf of all the parliamentary parties who held representation in the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms. The House passed the bill through division of votes made to determine the actual number of votes in favour and against the amendment.
The parliamentarians celebrated the passage of the 102-clause bill with a prolonged thumping of desks. “It is a matter of celebration for all the democratic parties. Feelings of joy are visible in the House. This is a historic day for all of us,” Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza
said, while announcing the third reading of the bill.
A joyous parliament had received the much-awaited proposals for the landmark constitutional reforms last Friday that restored its lost power and a genuine parliamentary system after its repeated mutilation by military dictators.
Some members of the House, who differed with certain clauses of the bill during the second reading, also voted in favour on the final stage that made the passage of the bill possible with a consensus.
Overall, 292 votes were counted during the division of votes in the final phase, all favouring the bill, which was more than a two-thirds majority — prerequisite for a constitutional amendment.
The House debated the bill for three days and a number of MPs from all parties took part in the discussion and termed it a landmark achievement. The PPP legislators raised slogans of ‘Jiye Bhutto’ with loud desk thumping for a couple of minutes when the House adopted clause 95 of the bill with 276 votes against none that erases the name of General Ziaul Haq from the Constitution.
The PML-N parliamentarians raised full-throated slogans of ‘hang Musharraf’ right after the House passed clause 96, which pertains to declared proclamation of the October 1999 PCO and LFO by Musharraf, as having been made without lawful authority and no legal effect. The sloganeering continued for a couple of minutes. The clause was passed by 273 to nil votes.
Clause 3 of the bill regarding change in the name of the NWFP to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa faced opposition from parliamentarians hailing from the Hazara region and other members of the PML-Q. The clause, however, was passed with 264 votes favouring it against 20 opposing it. In a big deviation from their party’s policy, some PML-N members — Captain Safdar (son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif), Sardar Mehtab Khan, Murtaza Javed Abbasi, Sardar Muhammad Mushtaq and Sahibzada Fazal Karim — did not vote and left the House. Other MNAs from Hazara division, Farzana Mushtaq and Shah Jahan Khan from the PML-Q and Laiq Muhammad Khan of the JUI-F, also opposed the new name of the NWFP.
The House rejected two amendments moved by Marvi Memon and Shah Jahan Khan in the clause. Speaking against the new name, PML-Q’s Amir Muqaam said the people of Hazara are being punished for being Pakistani, adding the move had created unrest among them.
Farzana Mushtaq said giving a new name to the province had buried the ideology of Pakistan.
She said the National Awami Party’s top leader did not salute the Pakistani flag at the time of partition in 1947. “They wanted to make ‘Pakhtunistan’ as part of India,” she said. She said the people of Hazara are now demanding a new province.
Marvi Memon said it is only the PML-Q which took a stand against this clause. Kashmala Tariq said all people of the province should be taken on board before making changes in name of the NWFP.
Rejecting the amendments, Raza Rabbani said a new province could be created by changing boundaries of an existing province if the concerned provincial assembly passes it with a two-thirds majority.
Surprisingly, PML-N’s Makhdoom Javed Hashmi and Khawaja Saad Rafique were among the six parliamentarians who voted against clause 6 of the amendment bill which pertains to substitution of Article 17 of the Constitution.
Kashmala Tariq of the PML-Likeminded moved an amendment in this clause. She strongly objected to omission of a clause of Article 17 which says that every political party shall, subject to law, hold intra-party elections to elect its office-bearers and party leaders. She said the omission of this clause would promote dictatorship and inheritance in political parties. Israr Tarin and Riaz Fatiyana also voted against Clause 6 of the bill.
Kashmala Tariq, while moving amendments in some clauses, time and again targeted Raza Rabbani. “I have decided to refrain from giving any response on today’s historic day but I reserve my right to react some other day,” Raza Rabbani responded on the floor of the House.
The House rejected another amendment moved by Kashmala in clause 16 in which she wanted that a woman parliamentarian elected twice on reserved seats should be given tickets by their parties to directly contest general elections.
As the bill was unanimously passed, Ahsan Iqbal snubbed a young parliamentarian from the PPP who was raising slogans in favour of President Asif Ali Zardari. “The bill has been passed with consensus, so why are you raising such slogans,” Ahsan said.
The 17th clause of the bill provides that the president could only dissolve the National Assembly on the advice of the prime minister.
The assembly also passed a clause regarding repealing of Article 58 of the Constitution that bars the president to dissolve the National Assembly on his own.
Another amendment was proposed by Kashmala Tariq in clause 6 of the bill suggesting that the heads of political parties should be elected through an electoral process besides enhancing representation of women in parliament. The House rejected these amendments with a majority.
The National Assembly also passed an amendment in Article 153 of the Constitution which provides reconstitution of Council of Common Interests with the prime minister as its chairman.
It has also been made obligatory for the council to meet at least once in 90 days to resolve the contentious issues between the federating units.
The House also adopted an amendment in the Constitution to change the procedure for the appointment of judges of the superior courts.
Under this provision, the judges would now be nominated by a judicial commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan while final approval of the appointment would be made by a parliamentary committee consisted of parliamentarians.
The House also passed amendment in Article 213 of the Constitution which provides that the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly would forward three names for the appointment of the chief election commissioner to a parliamentary committee for hearing and confirmation of any one person from them.
Under clause 90 of the amendment bill, the powers to appoint services chiefs has been delegated to the prime minister which was earlier prerogative of the president. However, the president will remain supreme commander of the Armed Forces.
Under clause 71 of the bill a high court for Islamabad Capital Territory has been proposed besides setting up of benches of Peshawar High Court at Mingora and Balochistan High Court at Turbat.
The 18th Amendment Bill has also provided more provincial autonomy to the provinces through diverting resources to the federating units, allowing to explore natural resources, establish power generation units and get royalty on natural resources.
After passage of the 18th Amendment Bill from the Lower House, it has now been transmitted to the Senate for its consideration which will take it tomorrow.
Online adds: The National Assembly passed clause 15 with 274 votes, making it binding on the prime minister to take consent of the joint session of the Parliament before holding a referendum.
To increase the Senate seats from the present 100 to 104, the Lower House passed the clause 18 with 278 with no vote against it. Working days of the Upper House have also been augmented to 110 from 90 days with the approval of clause 19 with 279 votes.
The National Assembly also passed clauses 21 and 22 for amendments in Articles 62 and 63 that relate to the eligibility and ineligibility of the members of the Parliament.
Clause 23 was passed with 281 votes, which states that the joint session of the Parliament will approve a bill in case divergence persists on the bill in the National Assembly and the Senate. he House also passed clauses 25 and 26 with 280 votes while 281 votes were cast in favour of clause 27, which bars the president to promulgate any ordinance when the Senate and the National Assembly are in session.
The House passed another important clause 28 which states that the president will be symbol of the Federation and on the name of the president, the prime minister and the federal government will exercise all the state powers.
To end bar on third-time premiership, the House endorsed clause 29 with 282 votes against nil. It also approved clause 30 to curtail the size of the cabinet, which will be eleven percent of the total size of the Parliament under the 18th Amendment.
The Lower House also imposed bar on the attorney general to do private practice by passing clause 32.
`The house further empowering the office of the prime minister passed clause 33 for amendment in article 101, under which the president will appoint provincial governors on the advice of the prime minister.
The House passed clause 37 unanimously under which a governor will only dissolve the assembly on the advice of the chief minister and assemblies will stand dissolved in 48 hours after the receipt of advice. Clauses 38, 39, 40,41 and 42 were endorsed to restrict the governor not to re-promulgate ordinance more than once besides increasing the working days of provincial assemblies from 70 to 100 days.
For the devolution of power at the grassroots level, the National Assembly passed clause 48 for the establishment of local governments in all the four provinces.
Members of the Lower House also approved clause 50 to abolish the Concurrent List. The House unanimously approved clauses 59,60 and 61 under which share of provinces in the new NFC will not be reduced from the previous one.