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October 4, 2017

Election Act


October 4, 2017

In a sometimes angry speech, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has called for the right of people to elect their leaders, to be respected and has stated that the law of dictators had led to his disqualification. His speech came hours after the PML-N re-elected Nawaz as its party chairman. Nawaz was addressing a meeting of the party’s General Council which had decided he would act as president of the PML-N for four more years. The possibility of this was made possible by the stormy passage of the Election Bill 2017 through the National Assembly on Monday. The Senate had previously passed the bill by the narrowest of majorities. The primary focus of political parties while looking at the lengthy bill, which discusses a variety of electoral reforms, is clause 203 under which a requirement that barred a person disqualified from serving as an MNA has been removed. This permits Nawaz as a disqualified member of the NA to continue to lead his own party. Other important contents of the bill, which include greater autonomy for the election commission, new delimitations for constituencies on the basis of the census, improved methods for resolving electoral disputes and greater stress on registering female voters, went largely ignored in the fray over Clause 203 and its immediate effect.

The PTI, AML of Sheikh Rasheed, and other parties lashed out furiously against the clause, with even the PPP – from whom the PML-N had been expecting support – stating that it was designed to serve the purposes of only one individual. It should be noted the provision had initially been inserted under Ayub Khan, removed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and then reintroduced in 2002 by Gen Pervez Musharraf essentially as a means of preventing Benazir Bhutto from assuming leadership of her party. This history, however, did not sway the PPP in its opinion. In Nawaz’s telling, the act of passing the Elections Bill 2017 is not a self-serving way to allow the deposed prime minister to continue heading the PML-N but rather is part of his history of defiance.    It would appear more friction may lie ahead. The Pakistan Awami Tehreek has already moved a petition against the clause before the Lahore High Court while the PTI has warned it will do so before the SC. These hearings will of course become relevant in the current light of events. What is also equally relevant is the continuing divide within democratic political parties and their failure to forge a common bond. Given the manner in which power plays out in our country, this unity is in so many ways essential. It is disappointing that even parties deeply affected by this and other laws put forward by dictators have not managed to stand united. With many expecting more drama in the days ahead, for now the PML-N and Nawaz Sharif seem to be fighting what seems to be a largely solo battle.

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