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Sunday December 05, 2021

Urgent legislative agenda put on backburner, for now

October 17, 2021
Urgent legislative agenda put on backburner, for now

ISLAMABAD: The government’s preoccupation with deliberations over the notification for the appointment of the new director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has kept its urgent legislative agenda on the backburner for now.

Earlier the government had planned during the current week to push through the controversial electoral reforms and the amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) and appoint the two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) without loss of further time but could not due to other more pressing matters.

A session of the National Assembly had been specifically called to refer the NAO amendments to the joint parliament session, which, however, was not convened despite the announcement. Similarly, a meeting of the parliamentary committee on the appointment of the ECP members, which had been summoned, was not held. It had also been officially announced that a summary had been sent to the president to urgently convene a joint sitting of parliament.

Several ruling coalition members were caught by surprise over the hurried summoning of the parliamentary party before the National Assembly session without a prior announcement. They had to rush to the discussions.

Owing to a lack of interest among governing coalition members, the National Assembly continues to be hit by the quorum deficiency syndrome. Not only now, but its entire last session had transacted no business at all, as even the minimum required members did not turn up. In fact, they have no worthwhile business to dispose of.

However, nearly two weeks had been counted as working days of the National Assembly for the purposes of the constitutional requirement of mandatory sittings and payment of allowances and perks and privileges to the lawmakers.

The official plan was that since the opposition parties are reluctant to cooperate in the approval of the electoral reforms and are unwilling to evolve a consensus, it is better not to waste further time in engaging with them and bulldoze the reforms in the joint session of parliament where the government feels it will face no problem because of its numbers. The same approach was envisaged to be applied to the NAO amendments.

Similarly, the nominees recommended by Prime Minister Imran Khan as the ECP members were to be cleared by the parliamentary committee three days ago. But it too was not summoned for unexplained reasons. The government is in a position to get its recommendations cleared by the forum for having a one-vote edge in it.

It is always the responsibility of the ruling party to keep parliament in order as far as quorum is concerned. The opposition parties generally point out a lack of quorum so that the legislature can’t carry out any meaningful government business.

If the issue of the notification had not been there or had it been promptly resolved, these three major developments were going to take place in the parliament or its committee. The government seemed satisfied that it has achieved what it wanted, specifically the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and i-voting for overseas Pakistanis in the next general elections. Also, it would have got its two choice nominees inducted in the ECP as its members.

However, it is clear by now that all these activities have already been challenged in the superior courts or would be in the days to come. Not only would their final fate be decided by the superior judiciary but the requisite clarity would also be brought to certain aspects.

On the previous occasion, the government had unilaterally chosen two ECP members without consultations with the opposition leader. The Islamabad High Court had struck down these nominations and ensured that the required consultations take place with the involvement of Speaker Asad Qaiser.

In the present case, the speaker had also made an attempt by writing a letter to the opposition leader but it was rejected on the grounds that Asad Qaiser’s role is not mentioned in the concerned law.

After that, the prime minister wrote a letter to the opposition leader suggesting the names for ECP members from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Shehbaz Sharif dismissed them and came out with his own recommendations. The government then decided to refer these names to the parliamentary committee on the ECP members’ appointment.