The National Assembly has unanimously passed the 20th Constitutional Amendment. It was a historic day as the democratic government achieved another milestone by proposing and approving the 20th amendment with the consensus of all the stakeholders. The passage of the 20th Constitutional Amendment has strengthened democracy. A precedent has been set for all to follow. The PPP government has continued its tradition of following a policy of reconciliation as 18th and 19th amendments were also passed by the parliament with full consensus. The unanimous passage of 18th, 19th and 20th amendments has restored a genuine parliamentary system in the country and has ensured more autonomy to provinces. 247 members from both the government and opposition benches in the lower house voted for the amended version of the bill. No members present in the house voted against it.

The amendment has set down a process to install a caretaker set-up and hold free and fair elections in the future. Through this PPP government has ensured free, fair and transparent elections in the country for future generations and an independent Election Commission. It is democratic government’s credit that from now on there will not be any imported caretaker prime minister in this country. Even a minor role for appointing the caretaker prime minister to hold general elections has been eliminated by the 20th Constitutional Amendment.

The Parliament has given the Election Commission of Pakistan such powers which have no parallel in the world. The 20th Constitutional Amendment Bill 2012 has given the ECP sweeping powers by minimizing the government’s direct role in the appointment and removal of its members. Under the new mechanism of choosing caretakers, as envisaged by the amendment, both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly would hold a ‘consultation’ on the matter. The process of finalizing names must be completed within three days of the assembly being dissolved. In case the premier and the opposition leader fail to agree, an eight-member committee comprising four members from both sides will come up with its suggestions. If this panel also fails to agree, the ECP will then be empowered to send names to the president.

The amendment also envisaged that four members, one from each province, would be chosen for five years and the government would have to follow the same procedure to seek their removal, as is the case with High Court judges. An incumbent prime minister or chief minister will continue to hold office till the appointment of their replacements. The amendment also allows political parties to make additional nominations to their lists for parliamentary seats reserved for women and minorities if an existing list is exhausted. The bill now needs passage through Senate to become effective.

SHUAIB AHMED WADHO,

Islamabad, February 15.