ISLAMABAD - The opposition in Friday’s National Assembly sitting raised reservations over the draft of Election Bill 2017, proposing amendment to make it more effective for ensuring free, fair and transparent elections in the country.

Another key feature of yesterday’s session was PkMAP chief Mehmood Achakzai’s criticising the interference of secret agencies in the general elections and his urging the political parties to expel members having links with them.

The house had a thin presence and the proceedings were suspended for half an hour in the start due to lack of required strength. When session resumed, the house suspended rest of the business and carried out in-depth debate on the electoral reforms bill.

PPP lawmaker Naveed Qamar said that it would be a collective failure if objections were raised regarding electoral reforms after next [2018] polls. “This exercise was initiated in 2013 after many alleged massive rigging in the general elections, some calling it RO’s elections,” he said.

He said that electronic voting machines might not be used for better polling system in next polls. “Loopholes in the bill need to be plugged as it could be used against us (parliamentarians),” he said.

About articles 62 and 63, he said, these were not used in the past but now these articles can be used at any stage [to disqualify the parliamentarians].

PTI’s Shireen Mazari expressed reservations over the bill. “In the committee meetings, Nadra and the election commission did not properly cooperate. This is bureaucratic mindset,” she remarked.

A comprehensive plan was proposed for overseas Pakistanis in the committee meetings, she said, but they were not given right to cast vote.

She said there should have been equal representation of government and opposition in parliamentary committee to deliberate on reforms. “Without biometric elections rigging cannot be stopped,” she viewed.

MQM-P’s Iqbal Qadri said his party has reservations over increasing the limit of expenditure for election campaign to four million rupees in the bill.

Jamaat-i-Islami’s Tariqullah said overseas Pakistanis should also be given right to cast votes. He warned against bringing changes in article (62 and 63) as it would be tantamount to treason with the constitution.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam(Fazl) MNA Naeema Kishwar said that all political parties want free and fair elections. “There is no benefit of this bill without definite constitutional amendments, she argued.

Taking part in debate, Mehmood Khan Achakzai – the chief of Pakhtukhwa Milli Awami Party which is a coalition partner in PML-N government - asked all the political parties to unanimously pass a resolution for supremacy of the parliament.

He also demanded all the parties to expel their members who have links with secret agencies.

Achakzai further proposed another resolution to expel those members who had taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). He also proposed giving reward to judges for not taking oath under the PCO.

He asked if Pakistan was created to provide immunity to military generals. He said that 28 prime minister have been disqualified in the history of the country. “The aggregate of the terms the ousted premiers served was equal to the combined period of reign of just three military generals,” he added.

Achakzai went on to say that not a single free and fair election took place in Pakistan after 1970.

“No exercise aimed at ensuring transparent elections can be successful unless interference of secret agencies in democratic institutions and elections is not stopped. There is no other way to save the country other than to uphold the Constitution,” he said.

All political parties should now decide that all the decisions would be taken by the Parliament and there would be no role of intelligence agencies in democratic institutions, he said.

He said he did not respect those military chiefs who do not accept the constitution. “[But] I will salute generals who obey the constitution,” he said. “Long live those generals who respect the constitution,” the PkMAP chairman added.

Without naming any institution, he said, they [military] also raised Islami Jamhuri Ittehad (IJI) against the PPP. “There is a need to learn from the mistakes committed in the past,” he said and questioned whether articles 62 and 63 were taken into account when the IJI was formed.

About the model of former Soviet Union, he said, none of the ruler in the former Soviet state could come to power without the backing of secret agency KGB – something that led to the destruction of the USSR.

“Sindhi, Punjabi, Baloch and Pakhtun need to be united for the supremacy of parliament,” Achakzai said. “Pakistan is the only country where leader is ‘invented’... Even in-service people are making leaders,” he said, adding that it is the parliament which should make the foreign policy of the country.

Other MNAs, mostly from opposition, were of the view that the election bill should be finalised in such a way that no one can raise objections on next polls. They said the draft bill has been prepared after hectic efforts by all political parties during a period of about three years.

Earlier, the house observed one-minute silence to express solidarity with the people of Spain in the wake of terrorist attacks in Barcelona.