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October 3, 2017

Nawaz becomes PML-N chief today after law amended

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October 3, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Monday passed the Elections Bill 2017 amid a strong protest from the opposition parties, which would enable an individual who is disqualified to be parliamentarian, to hold office of a political party.

The National Assembly, while clearing the Election Bill 2017, rejected five amendments moved by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) member Sahibzada Muhammad Yaqoob, including one in Clause 203 of the bill, paving the way for re-election of Nawaz Sharif as the PML-N President. The bill was already okayed by the Senate with some amendments. President Mamnoon Hussain also assented the bill into law.

The general council of the PML-N would meet at the Convention Center on Tuesday morning to elect Nawaz Sharif as the party president. The Central Working Committee (CWC) of the PML-N, which met here on Monday, also okayed an amendment to the Clause 120 of the party constitution, which says that a disqualified person can hold an office in the party.

The proceedings of the House witnessed everything, including whistling, sloganeering from the protesting opposition members who also tore the copies of the bill throwing them in the air in front of dais of the Speaker. The members from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were also joined by the MQM parliamentarians during the protest in front of the Speaker. The PPP members kept standing in their seats as protest but did not join the PTI and MQM parliamentarians in front of speaker’s dias.

Some PTI members, including Hamidul Haq and Shaharyar Afridi, registered a strong protest when a PML-N member attempted to show some photos on his mobile phone. The PML-N members responded to shouting by opposition members with slogans against the PTI leadership.

The opposition leaders, including Syed Naveed Qamar, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Sahibzada Tariqullah, S A Iqbal Qadri, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Shaikh Rashid Ahmad, warned the government that the bill would be challenged in the Supreme Court if it was passed in the present shape. “I myself will challenge the bill in the Supreme Court as you have attacked the court with a rocket launcher,” he said adding that the government itself was digging the grave of democracy. He said there was no precedent in any country in which a disqualified person was allowed to head a political party.

According to the bill moved by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, every citizen will have the right to be part of a political party, except those in government service, and will also have the right to create a political party. The bill also enables the Election Commission of Pakistan (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 also states that any parliamentary leader could only be disqualified for a period of five years. Moreover, it states that the ECP will be an independent and autonomous body, which will formulate its own laws and the party funding details will be available online.

Speaking on the occasion, Shah Mehmood Qureshi of PTI said the government wanted a law to be passed by the National Assembly for the sake of an individual. “You still have the time to think about its consequences as it will be challenged in the Supreme Court anyway,” he said. Qureshi said that Clause 203 of the bill was in direct clash with the Constitution, saying it should be declared as void.

Sahibzada Tariqullah said the bill was being passed with mala fide intention, suggesting that it should be deferred. He also raised strong objections to the mandatory 10 percent votes to be polled by women voters and changes in oath in nomination papers. He said through changes in the oath, a parliamentarian could not be disqualified on the basis of wrong declaration in the nomination paper.

Syed Naveed Qamar warned the government that the legislation would be challenged in the same court, which had disqualified former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. “Such an exercise is not good for democracy and the parliamentary system,” he said.

Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao said the government had made the electoral reforms controversial. S A Iqbal Qadri of MQM said the government was getting a bill passed by the House only to benefit an individual who is not honest and was disqualified by the Supreme Court.

The eight laws, which would be consolidated once the bill becomes Act of Parliament, included Electoral Rolls Act 1974, Delimitation of Constituencies Act 1974, Senate Election Act 1975; Representation of the People’s Act 1976, Election Commission Order 2002, Conduct of General Elections Order 2002, Political Parties Order 2002 and Allocation of Symbols Order 2002.

Major reforms envisaged in the bill include strengthening of the Election Commission, which would be fully independent and autonomous. It has been delegated powers of the High Court for specific directions, administrative powers to control transfer of election officials and disciplinary action against them, full financial powers and powers to make rules without prior approval of the president. As an amendment was okayed by the House, the Election Commission would prepare a comprehensive Action Plan four months instead of six months before the elections, specifying all legal and administrative measures for the conduct of the elections. It would establish a transparent Result Management System for expeditious counting, compilation and dissemination of the election results.

The commissioners will have full financial powers, including creating posts within its approved budgetary allocations and all the expenditure of the ECP would be charged upon the consolidated fund.

The ECP has been authorised to redress complaints and grievances during various stages of the election process (other than challenge to the election itself under Article 225) and its decision will be appealable to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

According to an amendment in Clause 13, the Returning Officer shall compile the provisional results forthwith and on or before 2:00am the day immediately following the polling day, communicate these results electronically to the commission.

An insertion made in Clause 71, the commission shall take necessary measures to minimise possibility of printing of fake ballot papers and for this purpose shall also examine the possibility of using special water-marked paper for printing of ballot papers.

Another amendment to Clause 92 says that on receipt of the results of the count from all presiding officers of a constituency, the Returning Officer shall forthwith prepare and announce provisional consolidated statement of results of the count of constituency (excluding postal ballots) in prescribed manner.

With regard to delimitation, the ECP shall delimit constituencies after every census. The ECP shall appoint district returning officers, returning officers and assistant returning officers at least 60 days prior to the issuance of the election programme of the general elections.

The distance between a polling station and the voters assigned to it shall not exceed one kilometer, list of polling scheme shall be published at least 30 days before the polling day and the ECP will be empowered to install surveillance cameras in highly sensitive polling stations for remote monitoring  in such polling stations.

In case of default on payment of taxes, loans, utility expenses or other government duties, a candidate may clear the default at the time of scrutiny of nomination papers.

Maximum limits of election expenses shall be Rs4 million for National Assembly and Rs2 million for provincial assembly and Rs1.5 million for Senate elections. Election expenses shall be monitored by District Monitoring Team of the ECP and the ECP may impose fines in case of violation of the Act or the Rules.

Every member of the an Assembly or Senate will be required to submit annual wealth statement in the same form as is submitted under the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 and in case of failure to file wealth statement, the ECP can suspend the membership of the defaulting member and if the default continues for beyond 60 days, shall issue show cause notice for termination of his membership. The commission shall scrutinise the wealth statement and in case it is found to be false, the commission may direct prosecution of the member for the offence of corrupt practices.

To check mushroom growth of political parties, conditions of enlistment of a new political party with the ECP will include, in addition to existing requirements, minimum Rs2,000 and Rs200,000 enlistment fee. A political party shall submit to the ECP annual financial statement and list of donors who have donated Rs100,000 and more to the political party.

The symbols allocated to the political parties and candidates should be visibly different from each other. Another amendment in clause 95 says before commencement of the consolidation proceedings, the returning officer shall recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations, if a request in writing is made by a contesting candidate or his election agent and the Returning Officer considers such request as not unreasonable.

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