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August 6, 2020

Joint parliament session: Opposition to support MLA bill, claims Babar Awan

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August 6, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The opposition has agreed to unanimously pass the mutual legal assistance bill in the joint session of the parliament to be held on Thursday, Adviser to the Prime Minister Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan says.

“The opposition is on board for the approval of this most important Financial Action Task Force (FATF) specific bill in the joint sitting,” he told The News. Another significant bill relating to the increase in the number of judges of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the adviser said, would be approved by the parliament, which would hold a one-day session. The IHC was established in 2007 when Babar Awan was the federal law minister.

The adviser said that there are nearly a dozen bills that have been lying with the Senate unattended since a long time. As a result, he said, they have been stuck up. It appears from what Babar Awan stated that the joint session would be a smooth affair. However, a fierce numerical competition would take place if any controversial bill was brought before the legislature without prior consultations with the opposition.

Some opposition senators apprehend that a bill pertaining to the earlier disbandment of the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PM&DC) and establishment of Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) through a presidential ordinance would be presented in the joint session for passage.

Babar Awan said that the agenda of the joint sitting was being prepared and added that it would be clear only then how many bills from amongst thirteen would be included in it. He said that after holding its sittings on Friday and Monday, the National Assembly would complete its hectic schedule to tide over the “constitutional chaos” of not having met for the mandatory number of days during the current parliamentary year.

The adviser said that more than two dozens of Senate standing committees consume a large amount from the public kitty on holding its meetings, but no worthwhile legislative business has been transacted by them.

Babar Awan said that he has worked out with Speaker Asad Qaisar that the parliament would meet again in the week after the forthcoming Muharramul Haram where President Arif Alvi would deliver his annual address. On Sept 3, the National Assembly will start its 12-day new session.

In the meantime, both sides were hectically preoccupied on Wednesday to ensure the presence of their MPs to avoid their respective defeat in any numbers’ game. “We have made it a point that all of our members attend the joint sitting,” senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Ahsan Iqbal told The News. “The opposition parties have no clue about the agenda of the joint session. Normally, we would have got it by now.”

He said that unless the opposition knows what is to be taken up it can’t give its reaction. He said that two bills about the FATF requirements have already been passed by the National Assembly and Senate with the cooperation and help of the opposition. “We have supported these pieces of legislation in the national interest, and would not hesitate to do so for the same objective.”

However, a senior opposition senator said during a chat with this correspondent on condition of anonymity that the main bill that the government wants to pass pertains to mutual legal assistance and the opposition has no objection to support it. As far as the numerical scenario in the joint sitting is concerned, the two sides have almost identical strength and none of them is clearly in grip of the legislature. A simple majority will be needed to pass any bill in the parliament.

Some two years back, the PM&DC was dissolved by a presidential ordinance that provided for establishment of the PMC on the recommendations of a task force of the prime minister. However, it was shot down by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which restored the PM&DC.

The Senate had also rejected the ordinance by passing a disapproving resolution. There has been a stiff resistance to the ordinance from the opposition. Later, the Supreme Court, while hearing the appeal against the IHC verdict, revived the PM&DC to be presided over by retired judge Ejaz Afzal.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is not only ensuring the attendance of its own MPs in the House but also urging the members of its allied parties to be present in the joint session. The Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) has already said goodbye to the ruling alliance. The PML-Q is unhappy with the coalition after the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has proceeded against its key leaders in a big way. Now, its prominent stalwart Moonis Elahi has been summoned by the anti-graft agency to answer questions.

All is also not well in the opposition grouping. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has of late distanced itself from it. It became displeased over the passage of two FATF-related bills in the Senate as it complained that it was not taken into confidence. It stayed away from the opposition leaders’ meeting with the foreign minister wherein they were briefed about the new political map of Pakistan.