A growing political maturity!
Unanimous Passage of 20th amendment – A growing political maturity!
By Syed Abid Gillani
In the state of sheer despondency where intelligentsia as well as public at large started translating the failure of politicians as the failure of the system the passage of the 20th Constitutional Amendment with voice vote by the Lower and upper House of the Parliament is no less than a miracle.
By extending support to the ruling alliance lead by Pakistan People’s Party on 20th Amendment Bill at the time when the government was not in a position to show up two-thirds strength necessary for the passage of the amendment, the main opposition party in the National Assembly Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) showed a political maturity, as in lieu of the support they had forced the government to club a number of measures with the amendment for making the electoral process transparent and foolproof, with the Election Commission of Pakistan free from all sort of pressures and influences from the government.
Political observers said that the PML-N leadership could ditch the rulers at this stage as after the placement of the some 28 Parliamentarians under suspension, which also included some nine MNAs it would become extremely difficult for the PPP led coalition government to secure 228 votes in the National Assembly to get the 20th Amendment passed.
But instead of destabilizing the incumbent political dispensation, PML-N preferred to secure the future elections by getting some procedural changes to make the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker setup independent and neutral part of the 20th Amendment Bill, which the ruling PPP accepted with a few mutually incorporated changes after weeklong parleys with the opposition.
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leadership, though considered the stay of the PPP led ruling alliance in power fatal for the country even for a single day but at the same time they have realized that they should be voted out and not booted out as any unconstitutional or violent ouster of the rulers from power would only benefit the forces of status quo.
It was in this backdrop that PML-N had extended helping hand to the PPP lead coalition to get the 20th Amendment through from the Parliament but they had also taken the due cost for their support in shape of security the independence and neutrality of Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker setup to be established now by mutual consultation of the government and opposition.
The PML-N’s extension of support to the government at this critical juncture had also saved the ruling PPP from exploitation at the hands of some of its coalition partners as some credible people in PPP, who did not want to be named, informed that both MQM and PML-Q had their own sets of demands and they had started pressing for its early acceptance when the saw PPP in difficult situation.
Some PPP leaders who were aware of the deliberations between the PPP and its coalition partners informed that MQM wanted to get the matter of Local Bodies issue in Sindh settled at the earliest while the PML-Q wanted to bracket a clause with 20th Amendment to take back the curricula formulation powers back from to the Federal Government from provinces. The powers of curricula formulation was doled out to provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment and PML-Q leadership was demanding its return to Federal Government since the handing over of these subjects to the provinces.
But all these demands were pushed back when the PML-N extended support to the government for the passage of the 20th Constitutional Amendment through in lieu of passage of quite pertinent and reasonable demands to ensure independence of Election Commission of Pakistan and the future caretaker setup to hold next general elections.
Primarily, the 20th Constitutional Amendment was instituted to provide constitutional cover to some 28 Parliamentarians including Senators, MNAs and MPAs who were all elected in the bye-polls and during the period when the Election Commission of Pakistan was incomplete and hence their elections were challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The apex court had given a reasonable time to the Government to provide these MPs a constitutional cover through an amendment in the constitution but when it failed to do so the court had suspended the membership of all these MPs and given last chance to the government to resolve the issue till Feb. 21.
Taking advantage of the situation where the ruling alliance was not in a position to muster up the strength of 228 MNAs in the National Assembly, required for constitutional amendment, PML-N came up with some pertinent amendments to be made part of the amendment in lieu of their support to the government.
The PML-N sponsored demands clubbed in the 20th Constitutional Amendment included fixation of the provincial members of the Election Commission of Pakistan from at five years instead of two years, measures to make Election Commission of Pakistan monetarily independent, commitment was also secured from the government that it would not give extension to the incumbent Chief Election Commissioner on expiry of his term in March and appointment of the next Chief Election Commissioner strictly in line with the procedure laid down for it in the 18th Constitutional Amendment and permission to the heads of Parliamentary parties in the National Assembly to give fresh names in the lists of women and minorities members of their respective parties at any stage of time during the term of the National Assembly.
Earlier the lists, which were given at the time of elections on reserved seats for women and minorities could not be altered or changed till the completion of the term of the government even if the same were exhausted.
On the issue of setting up of the caretaker or interim government it was decided that the interim setup would be decided by both Leader of House and Leader of Opposition with mutual consultation and consent and if they failed to evolve consensus within three days time then the matter would go to eight-member Parliamentary Committee constituted by the Speaker National Assembly having equal representation from treasury and opposition to decide the matter again within three days time and in case they too failed to evolve consensus then the matter would finally be referred to Chief Election Commissioner who would decide from the proposed names by opposition and government on its own. This would be too early to say how the 20th Amendment will fairly be brought into practice but apparently it’s a very significant step forward for our nascent democracy in the country. Since the 20th amendment has become law, the parties outside parliament can approach the Supreme Court if something found wrong while implementing the newly passed law.
The writer is Islamabad-based journalist and political analyst