ISLAMABAD: The deadlock between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on the 20th Constitution Amendment Bill persisted on Tuesday as the two sides stuck to their stances on a caretaker set-up for holding general elections, but agreed to meet again on Wednesday noon ahead of the National Assembly session to be held in the evening.
The representatives of the government and the opposition met for the second day in the chamber of Leader of Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the Parliament House, but again failed to reach an understanding on the major demand of the PML-N to make it constitutionally binding upon the government to appoint a caretaker set-up with ‘consensus’ for holding general elections, instead of ‘consultation’ with the opposition as envisaged in the Constitution.
After the second round of talks with a government team headed by Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Shah, the opposition leader told a group of reporters that there had been ‘no progress’ on the issue of caretaker set-up because the PPP was not ready to accept the PML-N’s demand. He, however, indicated that two sides might succeed in breaking the impasse on Wednesday. He said: “There could be some progress tomorrow.” Chaudhry Nisar justified his party’s position on the issue by citing his past experience when the government twice appointed controversial persons as chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) without holding a meaningful consultation with him, thus forcing him to take the matter to the Supreme Court.
He alleged that the government had misused the term ‘consultation’ and merely ‘informed’ the opposition about its decisions. “Instead of consultation, the government informs us,” he said, adding that the opposition parties had ‘reservations’ over the way the term ‘consultation’ was used by the government. Chaudhry Nisar, however, acknowledged that the ruling party had agreed to most of the opposition’s demands about making the Election Commission more independent.
But, he said, the PML-N was not ready to give up its demand about the caretaker set-up, adding that the country’s future depended on transparent and fair elections which were possible only under a neutral caretaker government. The original two-clause draft of the 20th Constitution Amendment Bill, already approved by a house stranding committee, only sought to rectify an alleged flaw relating to by-elections to 28 seats in both houses of parliament and provincial assemblies that cropped up in the Supreme Court during the hearing of another case on the ground that the votes were held when the EC was not complete. On Monday, the Supreme Court suspended the membership of the 28 legislators, mostly belonging to the PPP and the PML-N, till the approval of the amendment law by the parliament. The PML-N has made its support for the bill conditional to acceptance of its own amendments.
The ruling coalition has been saying that it has two-thirds majorities in both the houses of parliament required to pass an amendment to the Constitution but would prefer an agreement with the opposition as was done in the unanimous adoption of the 18th and 19the amendments. But Chaudhry Nisar said things might become difficult for the coalition to arrange a two-thirds majority after the suspension of its lawmakers. He claimed that so far the government parties had failed to assemble more than 190 members it required the support of 228 members in the National Assembly to get the constitution amended. He asked the government to go ahead with its plan of putting the law for voting if it had the required majority.
Answering a question, Chaudhry Nisar said the suspended members were not at fault and blamed the chief election commissioner for the chaos. He questioned the logic behind announcing the election schedule for the by-elections by the CEC when he knew that the commission was incomplete. He also said that under the Constitution, the tenure of the CEC could not be extended. Sources in the two parties told news that the PPP had already agreed to three of the four demands presented by the PML-N as a condition for supporting the 20th Amendment. The sources said the PPP had agreed that the tenure of EC members would be increased from two years to five.
Similarly, the sources said, there had been an agreement on the PML-N’s demand that a mechanism should be devised under which EC members could only be removed the way judges of the superior courts could be removed from their posts. The PPP, the sources said, had also agreed to the demand that political parties should have the right and powers to change the list of candidates on reserved seats for women and minorities at any time after the elections. The issue surfaced when after the resignation of PML-N’s MNA Maimoona Hashmi the party was deprived of its representation on the reserved seat as Ms Hashmi’s name was last on the list that had been submitted by the party to the EC at the time of the 2008 general elections.
The sources said the PPP was not ready to agree to the demand about the caretaker set-up believing that it would be almost impossible for all registered parties to reach a consensus on the names of the caretaker. The sources said the PML-N had even threatened to challenge the caretaker set-up in the apex court if established by the government without consensus.