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November 23, 2017

The assembly votes


November 23, 2017

For all the heat and noise bought to the National Assembly on Tuesday, the PML-N was ultimately able to use its majority to shut down any attempt to remove Nawaz Sharif as president of the party and show that talk of a major split within its ranks is overblown. Attendance in parliament was the highest it has been in months as the opposition parties tried to include an amendment to the Elections Act 2017 to prevent anyone who has been disqualified from being elected as a parliamentarian from serving as an office-bearer in a political party. The clause, which had been removed by the PML-N from the original Elections Act, was obviously meant to target Nawaz – and voting on it was along partisan lines. The only defectors were government ally Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali and the MQM-P. As far as the bill itself is concerned, since the PPP-led Senate has already passed the Elections Act with the amendment included, the government will now have to call a joint sitting of both houses to have the bill enacted through a simple majority – a mere formality given its overall majority. However, despite the success on Tuesday there may be some concerns within the PML-N regarding the rather thin number of votes cast by PML-N allies including the JUI-F and PkMAP. For now, though, the PML-N has been able to dispel the view put forward by opponents and analysts on TV that it was in danger of falling apart.
Much of the drama on the day came from the fiery speeches, particularly from Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The PTI leader pointed to the rather strong attendance by government members, who are usually absent. While attendance is usually desultory, the opposition does not have much standing to complain since it too has often treated parliamentary sessions as a nuisance that is to be avoided. It is hardly surprising that the most high-profile member to yet again be absent was PTI chief Imran Khan. On the substance of the amendment, all sides have claimed to take a principled position.

The PML-N has said that it has only tried to remove a clause introduced by a military dictator while the opposition parties say all they wanted to do was to prevent the passage of a person-specific legislation. Clearly, though, both sides are looking to protect their own interests. Now, with the issue seemingly settled by a vote, it is time they look to the interests of the country. The opposition parties have long-delayed the essential vote on a constitutional amendment to allow the Election Commission of Pakistan to carry out delimitation of electoral boundaries on the basis of the new census. That amendment needs to be passed immediately. Any hope the opposition parties had of forcing out Nawaz Sharif from political office or showing the existence of a split within the PML-N has now been extinguished and it is essential we all move on to other pressing matters.

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