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NA speaker to pen letter to CJP after MNAs stress parliament’s supremacy

"We have tolerated a lot. How long will we keep doing it?" FM Bilawal says, slamming SC decision

By Waqar Satti
April 26, 2023

National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf chairs a session of the lower house of the parliament in Islamabad, on April 26, 2023. — Twitter/NAofPakistan
National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf chairs a session of the lower house of the parliament in Islamabad, on April 26, 2023. — Twitter/NAofPakistan

National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf has said that he would pen a letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial to express the "sentiments and thoughts" of the legislative after the lower house's members stressed the parliament's supremacy.

The lawmakers Wednesday unanimously said that the authority of parliament should not be undermined by any individual or entity and stressed that the legislative should exercise its power of enacting crucial legislation.

The development comes as the government and the Supreme Court remain at loggerheads over the elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies.

The court — which will resume hearing on elections tomorrow — had before Eid ul Fitr asked parties to sit down at the negotiating table to decide a day for the elections, but that hasn't happened yet.

In a meeting of the ruling allies earlier today, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that a parliamentary committee would discuss the terms of talks between the ruling alliance and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regarding holding elections across the country on the same day.

But the lawmakers of the ruling alliance, in their fiery speeches today, rejected to hold talks with the opposition under duress and expressed confidence in the leadership of PM Shehbaz.

'We have tolerated a lot'

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in his address to the lower house, said despite court orders, Punjab local body elections did not take place and even after the passage of 90 days, the date for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa polls was not decided yet.

He termed as "shocking" the Supreme Court's latest verdict, in which it directed the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to issue funds for polls in Punjab and KP and later take approval from parliament.

"The parliament is being insulted because of a few people's stubbornness. If the judiciary has any misunderstanding regarding the Constitution, the PPP and the parliamentary committee are present to help it understand."

He questioned how the SC could order that the parliament be ignored. "Despite judges' 'thoughts', we respect them," he stressed.

He added, however, that the top court did not have the authority to amend the Constitution. "How can the court order that the parliament's decision be ignored and the verdict of a minority bench be accepted?" he questioned again.

"How can the court order the prime minister to not go to parliament? We are not ready to accept the court's decision if it says the parliament should be ignored."

The Supreme Court's verdict had insulted the parliament and the matter should be raised in the Privileges Committee, the foreign minister said. "We have tolerated a lot. How long will we keep doing it?" he thundered.

'Chaos'

In his address, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar came down hard on PTI Chairman Imran Khan and said the two assemblies were dissolved to spread "anarchy" in the country.

He said that the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) request for the release of funds was sent to the finance ministry, but his ministry cannot allow the issuance of funds without the following "procedures".

The minister added that in line with the law, the government brought the request before the cabinet and the parliament — both of whom rejected the proposal.

Dar said that the parliament accepts the 4-3 decision of the Supreme Court and noted that even the State Bank of Pakistan cannot release the funds — despite the top court's order.

He said that in the Punjab Assembly case, Article 63-A of the Constitution was re-written and the "world is surprised over the new interpretation" of the article.

"What was the sin of the 25 members whose vote was not counted?" he asked, claiming that the decision was made to spread anarchy in the nation.

Dar then slammed the "elements" responsible for derailing Pakistan's economy and said the country was standing at a "critical juncture".

The finance minister asked what would happen if the elections are held after three to four months. "What will happen if the elections happen in the country in October?"

The minister said the government was being asked to do an "illegal" thing and he would never advise the cabinet to do so. He added that the law dictates that elections should be held simultaneously.

"We cannot go against the Constitution just on court orders," he said, asking the parliament's members to suggest what the government should do till tomorrow.

'Parliament's prerogative'

In his speech on the floor of the National Assembly, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the lower house of the parliament has already passed resolutions for not providing funds to the election commission for polls.

"When the matter was taken up before the cabinet, the house had already issued its decision," the law minister said, stressing that it is the parliament's prerogative on the issuance of funds.

The minister added that the parliament had directed the federal government not to follow up on the Supreme Court's "minority" decision on the elections.

"Releasing funds from the Federal Consolidated Fund is the parliament's prerogative," the law minister added.

The minister said a person dissolved the assemblies to satisfy his "ego". He added that given the current circumstances, the parliament has the power to either ratify or review its earlier decisions.

'Contempt of parliament'

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) MNA Shahida Akhtar Ali, while speaking on the floor of the NA, asked how could the parliament allow the release of Rs21 billion funds to the ECP.

"The [SC] is imposing the decision on us. The institutions who are facilitating this person [Khan] should understand that he will come back to bite them," she said.

She stressed the need to hold elections simultaneously and noted that the parliament would not be undermined by any institution's orders.

In his address, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Agha Rafiullah — without naming anyone — asked whether there was any doubt that these "people are leaning towards others".

"A salaried government employee has committed contempt of parliament," he said, hitting out at the top court.

The PPP leader also asked the prime minister to order a forensic test of the recent audio leaks — including those of Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial's mother-in-law and ex-CJP Saqib Nisar.

"We should file a reference against such people in the Supreme Judicial Council," he said.

'Constituonal limits'

In his address on the floor of the house, Awami National Party (ANP) Haider Khan said the talks about elections in 90 days are taking place repeatedly nowadays.

"If we have to decide against the Constitution, then what is the justification for our presence? I am being told that I am violating the Constitution," the MNA asked, slamming the SC's decision.

Hoti advised the government to follow the "majority" decision of the Supreme Court and reject the "minority" decision. He asked why all the cases were being fixed before the same judges.

"Do other judges not understand the Constitution and law?" he asked, adding that the judges against whom concerns have been raised should not be included in the benches.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Barjees Tahir asked the speaker to write a letter to the CJP and inform him about the reservations of the parliament.

"For God's sake, tell them not to exceed their constitutional limits," he said, at which the speaker said he would try to send a letter to the top judge and inform him about the ongoing issues.

The April 19 order of the Supreme Court violated the sanctity of the parliament and reminded the CJP that the legislature has the power to call anyone to the Privileges Committee.

"But we don't want to call the [judges] to the committee," he added.