On 21-11-2017, Syed Naveed Qamar and Dr. Azra Fazal Pecheho MNAs moved a motion in the National Assembly for consideration of the Election (Amendment) Bill, a Private Members Bill which had been earlier passed by the Senate. This Bill sought to amend section 203 of the Election Act, 2017 to insert a provision barring a person from being appointed or serving as an officer-bearer of a political party who is not qualified to be, or is disqualified from being, elected or chosen as a Member of Parliament under any law for the time being in force.
Opposing the Motion, Mr. Zahid Hamid, Minister for Law and Justice narrated the history of the provision disqualifying office bearers of political parties. General Ayub Khan’s regime had enacted the Political Parties Act, 1962 of which section 5 disqualified a person for being a member or office bearer of a political party if he had been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment of not less than two years, or disqualified under Articles 121 or 122 of the 1962 Constitution for gross misconduct, or dismissed from the Service of Pakistan or disqualified for misconduct under EBDO [Elective Bodies (Disqualification) Order, 1959].
This provision was omitted by the democratic government of Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto through the Political Parties (Amendment) Act, 1972 which specifically stated in its preamble that the amendments were being made for the purpose of bringing these provisions in accord with the Constitution.
This situation prevailed for 25 years till the year 2000, when section 4 of the Political Parties Act, 1962 was amended by General Musharaf’s regime to bar a person from being an office-bearer of a political party if he is disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a Member of Parliament under Article 63 of the Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force, or if he has been convicted a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, or an offence under the Anti Terrorism Act, or involving public order or morality.
This was followed by the Political Parties Order, 2002 of which Article 5 retained the provision barring a person from being an officer-bearer of a political party if he is disqualified from being, elected or chosen as, a member of parliament under Article 63 of the Constitution or any other law. These amendments were made by General Musharraf with the malafide intention of preventing Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif from heading their respective political parties.
On 17-11-2014 in the 5th meeting of the Sub-Committee of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, during review of the Political Parties Order, 2002 the disqualification provision referred to above in Article 5 was recommended to be omitted. This clearly disproves the allegation that omission of the provision was person-specific to benefit Mian Nawaz Sharif as this decision was made nearly a year and a half before the Panama Papers were leaked. The omission/ removal of the disqualification provision is in accordance with Article 17(2) of the Constitution which entitles every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan to form and be a member of a political party. This right is subject only to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan and cannot be curbed by any other condition.
Minister for Law and Justice also stated that on 06.01.2017, a comparative table of the Draft Elections Bill, 2017 (which was published on 20.12.2016) and comparable provisions of the existing laws including the Political Parties Order, 2002 was shared with Mr. Naveed Qamar MNA and Dr. Arif Alvi, MNA on their request through E-mail. The comparative table clearly shows the proposed amendment in Article 5(1) of the Political Parties Order, 2002.
The above decision of the Sub-Committee was incorporated in the draft bill submitted to the main PCER on 20.12.2016, posted on the website of the Assembly and widely circulated. It was again included in the Bill attached with the Final Report of the Sub-Committee and then with the Final Report of the PCER dated 19.7.2017, which was laid before both Houses of Parliament.
No member of the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, Sub-Committee of the Parliamentary Committee, MNA or Senator, civil society organizations or any person from general public raised any objection regarding omission of the disqualification provision from 17.11.2014 till 22.08.2017 when it was passed by the National Assembly. It was only on 22.09.2017, that this objection was raised for the first time on the Senate floor by the opposition parties. Their amendment was defeated in the Senate by one vote. The opposition parties’ objection was clearly an after-thought and was targeted against Mian Nawaz Sharif, as is clear from the difference in wording of the original provision in Article 5 (1) of the Political Parties Order, 2002 and the provision sought to be inserted through the Bill in question whereby reference to Article 63 has been omitted. It is not section 203 of the Election Act, 2017 but the Election (Amendment) Bill, 2017 of the opposition parties which is person-specific. It has been rightly rejected by the National Assembly.