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October 28, 2020

Qualifications, disqualifications of MPs, candidates


October 28, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The government has proposed that the cut-off date for assessing qualifications and disqualifications of federal and provincial lawmakers and contesting candidates will be the date of scrutiny of nomination papers, which will be effective from October 2, 2017.

The proposal is contained in a bill moved in the National Assembly by the government, introducing major amendments in the Elections Act, 2017.

An explanation has been added to Section 231, which says it is clarified that the critical or cut-off date for the purposes of assessing the qualifications or disqualifications under this provision will be the date of scrutiny [which is part of the process carried out by the judicial officers]. However, this provision will take effect from October 2, 2017, when the Elections Act was notified, it said.

The existing Section 231 says qualifications and disqualifications for a person to be elected or chosen or to remain a member of parliament or a provincial assembly will be such as are provided in Articles 62 and 63.

These articles do not give any timeframe for their application contrary to the proposed amendment and have been invoked whenever the issue of qualifications or disqualifications of a certain MP or contesting candidate have been raised at any forum. These provisions have also been brought into play retrospectively, and a large number of legislators, most of them belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have been disqualified in the past. This sword of Damocles continues to hang over the head of all elected representatives.

Another key change has been proposed in the bill. A proviso has been added to Section 195, which reads the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is bound to publish the decisions of its meetings and details of voting where it decides a matter through a majority.

Section 195 in its present shape clearly provides for the data, information and details of the official business of the ECP not to be divulged and any officer contravening it is liable to be punished with imprisonment for a maximum of one year.

The ECP always makes public decisions taken, even if by a majority, and holds open hearings. But it does not disclose any such decisions taken in closed-door deliberations.

Yet another important amendment proposed in the bill is that the application of a political party for registration by the ECP will be accompanied by a list of 10,000 members -- rather than the present 2,000 -- including at least 20 percent women, with their signatures or thumb impressions along with copies of their National Identity Cards (NICs).

This is apparently aimed at getting rid of the proliferation of registered political parties, as a large number of paper entities have got themselves enlisted in order to qualify for taking part in elections.

The bill further proposes a change in Section 203(4), which now says a political party will encourage people with “disabilities and transgender persons” to become its members. The present provision says a party will encourage women to become its members.

A new section (213A) is recommended to be inserted in the Elections Act. The addition states that political parties may be bound to hold regular annual conventions and submit their report to the ECP mentioning at least the top ten problems of Pakistan, their reasons and solutions in the opinion of a majority of its members.

Another new insertion is of Section 72A, which says the seat of a returned candidate will become vacant if he or she does not take an oath within 60 days from the date of the first sitting of the National Assembly, Senate or local government. However, being a federal law, if it is enacted, it would not apply to the provincial assemblies, which make their own statutes.

There has hardly been any instance when a member-elect of the National Assembly or Senate has not taken oath after such a long period. Generally, a predominant majority of such members is sworn in collectively in the first sitting of the National Assembly. Currently, there is one example at the federal level, Ishaq Dar, of a Senator-elect who has not taken oath because he is abroad. Dar is facing several National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases. In Punjab, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has chosen not to take the oath despite being elected as a member of the provincial assembly in 2018.