Senate approves 20th Amendment bill after consensus

ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Monday passed landmark 20th Constitutional Amendment Bill with majority, providing an independent Election Commission and a neutral interim government set-up to oversee polls.

The amendment also validated the election of 28 law-makers through bye-polls during the past two years whose membership was suspended by the Supreme Court because the elections were held without completing the Election Commission in accordance with the 18th Amendment approved in April 2010.

A total of 74 members of the House voted in favour of various clauses of the bill, while Prof Khursheed Ahmad and Prof Muhmmad Ibrahim of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) opposed it. The amendments proposed by JI members were rejected.

Senators from the opposition parties and government’s allies had also demanded for the 21st Constitutional Amendment to remove any incongruity remain in the bill.

Start of the session was also delayed due to discrepancies between the government, its allies and the opposition.

Consensus, however,  was built after new phase of negotiations between the government and the opposition was held at constitutional committee room of the parliament house earlier today to attain consensus on the matter.

Qamar Zaman Kaira and Leader of the House Nayyar Hussain Bukhari represented the government in the meeting.

Speaking to the house after the voting, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani congratulated the nation and said that democracy will be strengthened in the country after passage of the bill.

The amendment provided for reducing the number of committees at provinces for appointing caretaker chief ministers and their cabinets for the fresh elections on completion of the tenure of any sitting government.

The 20th Amendment also provided for constituting an eight-member committee each at the Centre and the provinces to nominate the prime minister and the chief ministers respectively along with their cabinets.

But, due to less number of members of opposition in Balochistan Assembly (who are three), the total strength of the committees at provincial level was reduced providing that “if the members of the opposition are less than four (instead of already mentioned five members) in any assembly, then all of them shall be members of the committee.”

Furthermore, it provided that even if the respective committee or any of them failed to evolve consensus on a caretaker set-up within three days, the matter would be referred to the ECP for appointing the same.

In the 20th Amendment, Article 214 has been amended providing that the Chief Justice of Pakistan will administer oath to the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and the Chief Election Commissioner will administer the oath to newly appointed members of the Election Commission.

In amended Article 215, the amendment provides for adopting the same procedure for extension in the tenure of members of ECP as specified for the Chief Election Commissioner. This amendment also provides that to remove a member of ECP, the procedure laid down in Article 209 regarding removal of the Chief Election Commissioner or a judge from the service, will be applicable.

Similarly another amendment in the same clause provides that to resign from his office, a member of the ECP shall have to send his resignation to the President. Earlier, this provision applied to the CEC only.

Under the amendment in Article 216 of the Constitution, the proviso of not holding an office of profit will now also apply to the members of ECP like the CEC.

After signatures of President Asif Ali Zardari the bill will become part of the Constitution.

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