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NA Rejects Joint Opposition Bill By Clear Majority

Islamabad (November 21, 2017): The National Assembly rejected on Tuesday a bill to make an amendment to the Election Act 2017 so that a disqualified person could be prevented from leading a political party.

According to the details, the Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday rejected the bill after 163 members voted against the proposed legislation, which sought to restrict disqualified parliamentarians from heading a political party.

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98 members have voted in its favour, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq announced.

The bill was tabled days after deposed premier Nawaz Sharif re-election as head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Leading opposition party in the National Assembly, Pakistan Peoples Party’s member Naveed Qamar had earlier presented a bill in the Assembly.

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The PML-N was represented in the House today by 167 members. The government’s allies included the JUI-F, the PML-F and the PkMAP with 13, five and three representatives, respectively.

Members of the opposition parties included the 45 of the PPP, 33 of the PTI, 24 of the MQM, four of the JI and two each of the PML-Q and the ANP.

After the Speaker of National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq put the motion to the Lower House of the Parliament, the Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid interrupted to oppose the bill.

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“The law minister has every right to oppose the bill and we accept it but this is an effort of the joint opposition,” PTI leader Khursheed Shah said, following the interruption by Hamid. “I am surprised that the government is panicking and not even showing enough restraint to listen to our point of view.”

A ruckus, by members of the government, followed Shah’s statement.

The bill sought to restrict disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif from heading the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).

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Sources said the former premier and party chief has sought the attendance record of lawmakers and will likely issue show-cause notices to MNAs who skip today’s crucial session.

On October 23, the opposition-controlled Senate passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2017 with a majority vote, re-barring disqualified persons from taking part in political activities.

The bill was put forward by leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), among other opposition parties’ members.

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The amendment in section 203 of the Elections Act 2017 seeks to reimpose a ban on disqualified persons from taking part in political activities.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid rejected the allegations of the opposition and informed the House that a Senate sub-committee in November 2014 had approved the amendment in presence of PPP’s Naveed Qamar, Farooq Naek, Shazia Marri.

He vehemently opposed the opposition’s move and recalled how General Ayub Khan had inserted the very clause in the Political Parties’ Act in 1962 and this bar lasted till 1975, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s democratic government moved to make the act in accord with the Constitution after dubbing it against the Constitution and democracy.

This, he noted, was brought back by Musharraf in 2000 and then was part of the Political Parties’ Order 2002, aiming at Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

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The minister contended that the needless move was against the fundamental principles of political parties as well as the Constitution, as the legislation had already become a law and during over two years of deliberations at various stages, not a single member objected to the related clause and now all of a sudden after the Panama case judgment, they wanted to target an individual through the amendment.

Earlier this year, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) managed to pass the Elections Act, 2017 from the Senate and then the National Assembly to allow former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to head the PML-N once more after his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case.

Earlier, electoral laws had barred disqualified persons from heading political parties.

Game of numbers
At present, the government and its allies number 213 — the PML-N has 188 members, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl 13, PML-Functional 5, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party 3, National Peoples party 2, PML-Zia 1 and National Party 1.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties’ numbers are as follows: PPP 47, PTI 33, Muttahida Qaumi Movement 24, Jamaat-e-Islami 4, Awami National Party 2, PML-Quaid 2, Balochistan National Party 1, Qaumi Watan Party 1, All Pakistan Muslim League 1 and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan 1.

Moreover, there are 10 independents in the lower house.

Since the PML-N holds a majority in the National Assembly. The party will require a simple majority to defeat the opposition once the bill is introduced. Moreover, if the opposition manages to introduce the bill, they will have to convince the speaker to allow a vote on the law and not send the matter to the relevant standing committee, as is practice.

If the lower house rejects the bill, the matter can go to a joint sitting of Parliament where the PML-N and its allies will still outnumber the combined opposition.

However, of late, the PML-N has been struggling to ensure the presence of its lawmakers in the National Assembly. This was seen most recently when, earlier this month, the government failed to ensure the quorum in the lower house while attempting to pass the delimitation bill.

Moreover, since Nawaz’s disqualification, the opposition parties have claimed time and again that there are fissures in the PML-N, with dozens of party lawmakers ready to jump ship.

Sharif stepped down as the head of the ruling PML-N on July 28 following his disqualification on the same day in a landmark verdict by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case.

However, on October 3, he was re-elected as president of the party unopposed as no one filed nomination papers for the candidacy in the intra-party elections.

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