Pakistan’s National Assembly approved the Elections Act (Amendment) Bill, 2023, a significant piece of legislation intended to restrict the disqualification term of a legislator to five years. It further grants the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) the power to determine the election date independently, without needing the President’s counsel.
The bill has already secured approval from the Senate and now awaits the President’s assent. With President Arif Alvi not present, acting President Sadiq Sanjrani is expected to promptly sign the legislation.
Once the bill becomes law, it stands to benefit key political figures such as Nawaz Sharif, the three-time former prime minister and leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and Jahangir Tareen of the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP). Both had previously been indefinitely disqualified.
The Elections Act (Amendment) Bill, 2023 was presented to the National Assembly by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as an additional agenda item, receiving unanimous support.
Under the revised Section 57 of the Elections Act, the President’s authority to determine the election date has been revoked and granted to the ECP, allowing it to declare an election date without Presidential consultation. Furthermore, under the revised Section 58, the ECP is also authorized to create and adjust the election schedule. The bill also amends Section 232, pertaining to the disqualification of a parliamentarian.
According to the revised legislation, the disqualification period of a convict, for a crime not specified in the Constitution, will not surpass five years. The bill clarifies that in cases where the Constitution does not prescribe a term, the provisions of this bill will apply.
Under the revised law, anyone convicted by a judgment, order, or decree of the Supreme Court, high court, or any other court will face disqualification for five years from the date of the judgment’s announcement.
The amendment also states that the disqualification period under Article 62(F) of the Constitution will not extend beyond five years, allowing the individual to be eligible for a parliamentary or provincial assembly position after that period.
Sharif and Tareen, who were previously disqualified for life by the Supreme Court and subsequently removed from party positions, are seen as the primary beneficiaries of the new legislation.
In a subsequent conversation with a private TV channel, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif revealed that the ECP had no restrictions to hold the upcoming elections in October. Asif highlighted that Parliament had given the ECP the go-ahead to conduct general elections as scheduled.
Asif assured that the government had allocated funds to ensure the elections are free and fair. In response to a question about the lifetime disqualification of political leaders, Asif labelled it as a “violation of human rights”. He also confirmed that Nawaz Sharif, who he says faced false charges by political adversaries, will return to Pakistan to spearhead the PML-N’s election campaign.