ISLAMABAD - Amid verbal brawl and sloganeering, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on Tuesday defeated a bill moved by opposition parties in the National Assembly, seeking bar on a ‘disqualified person’ from holding the party office.

The treasury rejected the opposition motion, seeking amendment to ‘The Election Act, 2017’ with the majority votes as 163 members in the house voted against the bill while 98 members backed it.

The bill had sought the amendment in clause 203 of the Election Act, seeking to restrict disqualified members from holding any party office.

The opposition lawmakers, with the support of treasury member and former prime minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, could muster 98 votes in favour of the legislation. Of the 188 PML-N members, around 159 MNAs were present in the house, who voted against the opposition’s bill.

The house echoed with slogans such as “Aya Aya Sher Aya” by treasury members and “Gali gali mein shor hai, Nawaz Sharif chor hai” by opposition members.

The sloganeering started when treasury lawmaker Khalil George, in an emotional tone, chanted slogan: “Mian teray jaan nisar, beshumar beshumar”, as soon as the legislative business on the bill started.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle, during their fiery speeches, faced sporadic interruptions.

The opposition termed the legislation a ‘person-specific’ aiming to defend only one person, urging the house to adopt the amendment. In a veiled threat, they also hinted at taking the bill to the joint sitting of the parliament for voting.

National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, throughout the legislative business and amid hoots from both sides, attempted to control the decorum.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill says, “Subsequent to the enactment of Election Act, 2017, an anomalous position has arisen in Pakistan, wherein a person disqualified to be a member of parliament can not only become an office bearer of a political party but also its head.”

“This may enable a person, disqualified by a court of competent jurisdiction to be a member of parliament, to determine the policies and take the decision of any party from outside the parliament. The parliament itself thus seems to become hostage to a person who himself is barred from entering it. A person who is not eligible to be elected as a member of parliament on account of disqualification should not become an office bearer of any political party,” the bill stated.

The opposition, pointing out to the unusual large presence of PML-N lawmakers in the house, taunted the government MNAs for ensuring their presence only to defend their chief who is a disqualified person.

PPP’s Naveed Qamar, the mover of the amendment, questioned how a disqualified person was able to dictate the ruling party. “This is against the essence of the Constitution, so it was necessary to move the amendment bill against the person-specific law,” said Qamar, mentioning the amendment could also be moved in the joint session of the parliament.

Defending the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid clarified Clause 203 of the Election Act, 2017, was not person-specific. “The political parties had not opposed the clause at the meetings of a sub-committee constituted on electoral reforms,” he said, pointing out the report of the sub-committee on electoral reforms was unanimous with no dissenting note.

Hamid also reminded the house that disqualification clauses were introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf in ‘Political Parties Ordinance, 2002’ to keep former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto out of politics.

The minister further said the PPP government in 1975 also removed the clauses laid down by Gen Ayub Khan about the disqualification of members in ‘Political Parties Act, 1962’.

Defending the argument, he said Panamagate was introduced in 2016 while legislation on it was adopted one-and-a-half-years ago.

PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi, amid interruption by treasury lawmakers, suggested the PML-N could choose another party chief, Shehbaz Sharif or Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

“The PML-N has many options as experienced members are also in the party. This legislation is against the Constitution,” he said, adding it was not a rationale to make a disqualified person the chief of a political party. He said, “It was the blessing of this person-specific bill that a large number of government MNAs are present in the house”.

In a fiery speech, Railways Minister Saad Rafique said a decision about the future of the country will be taken by political parties. “Some people cannot impose their decision on 210 million people of the country,” he asserted, adding his party colleagues will decide about their leader. “There is no need for legislation which weakens democracy in the country. No one should speak about the minus-one formula for any party leader as it would weaken the democracy,” he said. He opined political parties should avoid taking any step which could undermine democracy and the political community.

PPP’s Dr Azra Pecheuho, taking part in the debate, said the ruling party lawmakers attended the house in defence of “one specific person”. “It is a shame that the house is full today,” she said, while alluding to the absenteeism of the treasury members during the past sessions of the lower house.

Another PPP MNA Shazia Marri, in her fiery speech, came down hard on the government for opposing the bill. “I hadn’t signed the legislation,” she said, asking the government not to try to dictate them. “Those who were involved in holding secret meetings should not teach us the lesson of democracy,” she said.

PML-N lawmaker Rajab Ali Baloch, who is fighting cancer, also took part in the legislation. “I have come to the house of my own free will. Nobody forced me to come and vote for it,” he said.

Earlier, Human Rights Minister Mumtaz Ahmed Tarar, responding to a call-attention notice, said the government has been actively working for the protection of human rights, especially of the marginalised segments of the society.

He regretted the recent Dera Ismail Khan incident and said eight persons have been arrested in this regard.