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February 11, 2019

Opposition to block legislation if PAC chief ousted: Ahsan

Top Story

February 11, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties will boycott the standing committees of the National Assembly if the government removed Shahbaz Sharif as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a senior opposition leader said.

“We will be back to square one--deadlock--on the establishment of all the House bodies,” Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart Ahsan Iqbal told The News when contacted for his comments on the official threat to get rid of Shahbaz Sharif as the PAC chief.

In such an eventuality, he said, there will be no legislation as the opposition has ways and means to block lawmaking. This is something the government has to ponder before embarking upon any adventure, he added.

A set of federal ministers has urged the PML-N president and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly to voluntarily step down as PAC chairman or face voting out. When the government was resisting making Shahbaz Sharif the PAC head, the entire opposition, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has warned that they would not be part of the standing committees unless he was elected as PAC chairman.

“The same situation prevails among the opposition parties and all of them will abandon the House bodies if Shahbaz Sharif was shown the door,” Ahsan Iqbal said. He said a meeting of the opposition parties will be held to deliberate upon the government’s move to strip off Shahbaz Sharif as PAC chairman.

Ahsan Iqbal said that Shahbaz Sharif was made the PAC head with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s consent, and it was not a favour but a parliamentary tradition, and his removal will be another U-turn of the government.

He said in almost every House committee, the government and its allies were in majority, and they can elect their chairmen, but, as per the parliamentary norms, all sides are given representation in the top slots of the standing committees according to their numerical strength in parliament.

The PML-N leader said that as per the government-opposition understanding, the positions of the chairman of the House bodies have been apportioned among them. He said this has not been done for the first time, but it is the practice since decades in every parliamentary democracy of the world.

Eminent constitutional expert and former Senate Chairman Wasim Sajjad told this correspondent that being in majority in PAC, the ruling coalition has the requisite numbers to vote out Shahbaz Sharif. “If this was done, it will be according to the rules, and there will be no legal problem.”

However, he pointed out the claimes of some federal ministers that Shahbaz Sharif is misusing his authority as PAC chairman. He believed that the opposition leader’s removal would further fuel confrontation, and it is for the government to think about cropping up of such situation when it is considering lawmaking.

The nominees of the PTI and its allies outnumber the representatives of the opposition parties in the 30-member PAC. They have 17 MPs, including 12 lawmakers of the PTI, two independents and one legislator each of the PML-Q, Mutahidda Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), and Balochistan National Party (BNP) of Akhtar Mengal.

On the other hand, the opposition parties have 13 members, including six lawmakers of the PML-N, five PPP legislators and two members of the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)/Jamiat-e-Ulemae Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

Even before deciding the composition of nearly three dozens of other standing committees as per the government-opposition agreement, they had not only constituted PAC, but unanimously elected Shahbaz Sharif its chairman to calm down the parliamentary tensions.

The constitution of the other House bodies was firmed up several weeks after this composition and the chairman’s election. The two sides are yet to elect their chairman in accordance with their understanding.

Under the agreed formula, the government will have its nominees elected chairmen of 23 House bodies while 19 such posts will go to the opposition. It is yet to be decided which standing committees would be headed by which party of the government and opposition.

The opposition parties will distribute their share of the chairmanship of among themselves. The PML-N will get 10 slots, and the PPP will gain six while the MMA will be given two berths and the Awami National Party one post.

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