ECP chief: bill sails through Senate

The Senate on Thursday passed ‘The Constitution (22nd Amendment) Bill, 2016’ on Thursday, with 71 votes – a narrow margin of one vote for the required 2/3rd majority – envisaging qualifications and a procedure for appointment of chief election commissioner and members of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The bill that has already been passed by National Assembly was moved by the federal minister for law and justice, Zahid Hamid, and now it would be sent to the President for his assent.

As some clauses of the bill were passed with 69 votes in favour and one vote of independent Senator Mohsin Leghari against it – this situation has generated a new controversy over whether or not 69 number fulfilled the required number of 2/3 majority.

In terms of mathematics, the required number for a two-third majority is 69.33 while the round figure should be 69. Before the house passed the constitutional amendment, the opposition severely criticised the government over the poor drafting of the bill and the way it sails through the house.

Majority of lawmakers said the bill was being passed in haste because terms of members of ECP as well as chief election commissioner would expire on June 10. “We will not allow the Senate to be turned into a rubber stamp,” a lawmaker said.

While another said that the house was surrendering its right to discuss any bill in the standing committee. The bill actually changes the legibility criteria of the appointments of all the members of the commission and the commissioner as earlier only judges of the superior judiciary could become part of the commission as well as CEC.

Now a civil servant who has retired in BPS 22 or a technocrat with not more than 68 years of age could become the members or commissioner along with retired judges of the superior judiciary. Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said a number of the opposition lawmakers had reservations on at least two amendments.

“The use of word BPS (basic pay scale) for the civil servants is improper as BPS is not part of constitution rather it is in the rules and secondly the word servant is being substituted with staff and that is inconsistent with the constitution also,” he said.

Later, a number of lawmakers endorsed his viewpoint. He also said that 68 years of age proposed for the members was a bit more. “It is a bad drafted legislation,” he said, adding that the government should commit that it would rectify these mistakes in the next constitutional amendment.

However, Mohsin Aziz of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) doubted that the government would honour its commitments. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the government had introduced the bill as all parliamentary parties on the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms had arrived at consensus that the eligibility criteria for the members and commissioner should be changed.

“It will be grossly unfair to say that we are passing it only because National Assembly passed it. Some members who spoke against the bill are also part of this parliamentary committee,” he said.

He said the government had taken all the parties on board before it introduced this bill. Law Minister Zahid Hamid said that some mistakes could be rectified in the electoral reforms package that had yet to come.

At the end, Aitzaz said they were not against the bill but opposition parties had a clear stance that they should not be turned into a rubber stamp.

Speaking on an adjournment motion about the situation arising out of the drone attack that killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, Farhatullah Babar said that there was clear contradiction in the state policy that Taliban were not in its control after the revelation that Mullah Mansour had a Pakistani CNIC and a passport.

He posed a question whether CNIC was issued to him due to involvement of state or corruption in NADRA. “International isolation of Pakistan has increased after the drone attack and there is a question whether this isolation was due to contradictions between the security and foreign policies of the state.”

Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed questioned the policy of the government on drone attacks and asked about the recent drone strike’s impact on US-Pak relations as well as on the Afghan peace process.

JUI-F lawmaker Hafiz Hamdullah said that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif the other day criticised the drone strike in the parliament house but his reaction was not accompanied by firm actions.

“To take a stance at a cup of tea is not a big thing,” he said adding that US ambassador should be expelled from the country. He said that US sabotaged the peace talks through the drone strike as it had been doing in the past.

Advisor to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, winding up the debate, said peace talks were seriously affected due to this incident but Pakistan would continue with its peace efforts to restart peace talks through quadrilateral group.

“We are taking up this issue with the UN Human Rights Council,” he added. He said that reports that Taliban chose its new chief in Pakistan were wrong. They held a meeting for this purpose in Kandhar, Afghanistan. We are in touch with Iran on this issue.

This drone strike had led to increased violence in Afghanistan, he said, adding that they needed effective measures for repatriation of Afghan refugees and effective border management.

At the end, Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani said that they took very strong exception to the remarks of President Barack Obama that drone strike would continue. -Business Recorder