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December 3, 2017

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Record does not show any selected members redrafted oath

ISLAMABAD: A change in the wording of the oath of candidates in the Election Act 2017 caused a stir in the country, which was termed an international conspiracy by some circles. Every sensible person would agree with the opinion that religious issues should not be used to achieve political gains and all issues should be resolved in accordance with the Constitution, law and the rules.

The issue started when the change in candidate’s nomination papers created challenges for the political intelligentsia. Instead of political insight and prudence, selfishness, temporary benefits, and hasty decisions not only weakened the political and democratic system, but also gave way to negative politics, based on propaganda.

When the parliamentary record was checked in connection with investigation into the issue, it transpired that every member of the parliamentary committee had a copy of the draft law, which clearly showed the difference between right and wrong. There are four types of nomination papers. Form No 9 is for candidates of the general seats ; 9-A for minorities, 9-B for special seats for women and Form No 20 is for Senate candidates. The Election Act 2017 was aimed at simplifying and consolidating all the nine laws. On May 16, 2017, it was decided at the meeting of the electoral reforms central committee that "nomination papers form number 9 should be made part of the Election Act 2017."

At this the Election Commission wrote a letter to the law ministry protesting that under the Election Rules, it was its prerogative to make any changes in the nomination forms. However, the claim of the Election Commission was not accepted.

According to the record, the electoral reforms subcommittee met with the then law minister Zahid Hamid in the chair on May 17, 2017 and discussed the contents of Form No 9, and the decisions taken are part of the record. There were various articles in the form which were out of scope of Article 62, 63 of the Constitution. Some of these articles were inserted in the form during the undemocratic rule in the country. For example, candidates were asked that how many times they have gone out of the country; if they have paid all their utility bills; if there were any criminal cases against them; what development works have they carried out in their constituencies in the past; how much agricultural tax had they paid, etc. Besides, there was a condition in the act that in case of wrong answer, the election would be declared void. All these questions had no connection with Articles 62, 63.

The members argued that either all clauses of Articles 62, 63 should be added to form 9, or a single clause should be added, binding the members to act completely on the whole constitution. As they said adding only some clauses was creating confusion. The members also objected to the clauses about eligibility or ineligibility of the candidates, made part of the nomination papers through back channel, and called for abolishing them.

According to the record, subcommittee’s 89th meeting was held on May 18, 2017, which discussed Form 9-A and 9-B. On May 23, 2017, Form No 20, meant for Senate candidates, was discussed. It was stressed in the meeting that form for the Senate candidates’ should also be structured on the pattern of the form for the National Assembly candidates’. The subcommittee discussed all the forms including 9, 9-A, 9-B and 20. Neither some selected members of the subcommittee nor any one member was assigned the task of preparation of the draft law, rather the entire subcommittee discussed the nomination papers.

Subcommittee’s 93rd meeting held on June 13, 2017, was the last meeting of the committee. The 16-member subcommittee consisted of members from all major political parties including Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

In one of meetings of the subcommittee, election expenditures of the candidates and political parties came under discussion. The subcommittee was of the consensus that the election expenses should be looked into in the light of the new draft law, as a minor mistake in this regard could render any candidate lose his, her seat. Therefore, it was decided that Form Nos 23, 27-A, and 27-C concerning electoral expenses of political parties should be redrafted. For this purpose, a three-member group was formed in the subcommittee comprising Anusha Rehman, Shafqat Mahmood and SA Qadari. However, it is quite clear that this three-member parliamentary group was never assigned the task of reviewing forms number 9, 9-A, 9-B, and 20. Form 23, 27 and 23C were presented for review to the 91st meeting of the parliamentary subcommittee. These were approved in the 92nd session held on May 31, 2017 and handed over to the subcommittee convener, Zahid Hamid, thereby completing the task.

The record shows that the redrafting of the nomination paper forms was not done by one or a few committee members, as the 16-member parliamentary subcommittee had given the suggestions in four meetings. As a result, the new form was presented at the subcommittee’s 93rd meeting, which sent the draft of Election Bill 2017 to the main committee after a thorough review.

According to the record, there were around 30 forms under the election rules and all of these – including Form 9, 9-A, 9-B and 20 – were reviewed by the subcommittee. Only three forms were handed over to the three-member group, which were about election expenses, data of party’s annual income and expense, and the political parties’ members list.

However, it is important to clarify that the nomination form was not given to any member or group of the parliamentary committee for review or redrafting. Moreover, the recommendations about the three forms assigned to the three-member panel, formulated during the four meetings, were not included in the National Assembly parliamentary committee report.

All the details of the main parliamentary committee and the subcommittee meetings are on record and the impression that some member of members of the subcommittee redrafted the forms is totally false and based on baseless propaganda. There should have been some record, if any person or group was tasked with redrafting the forms, and there is none. Some people even raised questions about not only the religion and belief but also patriotism of the members by repeating the unfounded claim of an international conspiracy.

The record also reveals that after the parliamentary committee, the National Assembly passed the bill and sent it to the Senate. It was the Upper House where Senator Hamdullah raised the point that the words “swear solemnly” had been changed with “solemn affirmation” in the declaration on the finality of Prophethood, which should be restored [there was no change in the declaration’s content]. But 35 opposition members, including Aitzaz Ahsan, opposed his stance, while 13 from the treasury benches along with the law minister supported him.

The question is whether the 35 senators, who supported Zahid Hamid’s bill and did not back Hamdullah, had become part of some international conspiracy. If not then how this entire episode could be described as based on ill-intentions or some conspiracy?

Some circles are of the opinion that a personality from the judiciary was also affected by this propaganda. All this happened despite the record showing that the whole parliamentary committee was part of this legislation, debate held in both the Houses of the Parliament and not "a member or some members are responsible" for the passage of the Election Bill 2017. The whole Parliament deserves reward or punishment for this.

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