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July 30, 2020

Legislative business: Parliament to experience touch and go due to precariously balanced numbers game

Top Story

July 30, 2020

ISLAMABAD: It would be touch and go in the Parliament if a numerical match took place between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), backed by its allies, and the opposition parties on the legislative business.

No side is in clear majority. The numerical situation will be precariously balanced in case of voting on any bill on which there will be no consensus. It will be an extremely tight contest in which either side can win. Slipping away of even a slight number of MPs from either side for any reasons, COVID-19 included, will certainly lead to its defeat. Additionally, any number of lawmakers, who will deliberate absent themselves during the voting, will actually be benefiting their rivals.

By now, it is clear to all and sundry that the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) will not vote for the ruling coalition. It has five lawmakers - four members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and one senator. It said goodbye to the government a few months back and did not stand with the government during the approval of the federal budget.

The kind of extremely tense relationship that has developed between the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) and the PTI after the hammering of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) accusing them of money laundering is forcing them to give a second thought to their alliance with the governing alliance. In the calculation of numbers done by The News, its five MNAs have, however, been put in the basket of the PTI and its allies.

The PML-Q demonstrated its distance from the PTI during the passage of the federal budget by boycotting a pre-budget dinner hosted by Prime Minister Imran Khan but voted for it. The situation is now more exasperated between the two parties after the NAB filed a hard-hitting reply in the Lahore High Court (LHC), subjecting the Chaudhrys to a host of charges.

Pakistan’s parliamentary history is witness that successive governments desist from lawmaking in joint sittings and engage their opponents in talks to do legislation in the normal fashion. Hardly ever bills have been passed in the joint parliamentary sessions.

The government is summoning a joint sitting of the Parliament in the next few days to take up nearly half a dozen bills that have not been passed by the legislature. Most of them have been cleared by the National Assembly wherein the PTI and its allies are in majority while they have been stuck up in the opposition-dominated Senate.

A cabinet member told The News that the government has a majority in the Parliament to pass the bills of urgent nature. But, when questioned, he was unable to give even a tentative figure showing his edge over the opposition in the joint sitting.

In case a bill is approved by one parliamentary chamber and is not cleared by the other or is rejected by it, the government or the opposition may seek its presentation in a joint session. Any side having a majority in the two Houses assembled together will be victorious.

According to the National Assembly website, the PTI has a total of 156 MNAs. It has in its basket the support of seven members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P); three members of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), five votes of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and one MNA each of Sheikh Rashid’s party and Jamhoori Watan Party besides five MPs of the PML-Q and two independents (Ali Nawaz Shah from Sindh and Aslam Bhootani from Balochistan).

Plus, the PTI has 15 members in the Senate and is backed by two senators of the BAP, five MPs of the MQM-P and one member of the Functional League. Over a dozen independent senators also support the ruling coalition.

On the other hand, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has in its pocket 84 MNAs, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has 55 MPs, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has 15 members and one MNA of the Awami National Party (ANP). Besides, the four MNAs of the BNP-M led by Sardar Akhtar Mengal are counted in the opposition strength apart from two independent members Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, belonging to the Pushtoon Tahuffud Movement (PTM).

The opposition’s numerical position in the Senate is far better compared to that of the government. The PML-N has the support of thirty plus senators. The PPP has 19 members. The National Party has five senators. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is backed by four members. The Pakhtunkhwa Awami Milli Party of Mehmood Achakzai has two senators while the ANP and BNP-M has one MP each.

It is not known on which side the two Jamaat-e-Islami senators will stand during voting on any bill in the joint session. For quite some time, the party is neither with the government nor the opposition. It continues to be critical of the government policies.