Chaos in the assembly

June 20, 2021

On June 11, the National Assembly passed 21 bills in a day after rules of business were suspended. The conduct of parliamentarians from both sides indicates that they don’t take legislation seriously

Chaos in the assembly

The National Assembly, meant for legislation mainly, has turned into a Hyde Park given the protests by the treasury and the opposition. The legislators are less serious about their real business. Instead, the treasury and the opposition are seen to be more keen on settling scores with each other. This is what happened on June 11 when the National Assembly passed 21 bills in a day including some controversial bills like Elections Amendment Bill 2020 and the International Court of Justice (Review and Reconsideration) Bill, 2020 related to the ICJ’s decision to give the right to file review petition to Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian convicted of espionage and terrorism.

The treasury, in an unprecedented move, requested the speaker to suspend the rules of business and tabled 21 laws for approval. The opposition, who should have stayed in the house, first protested against the suspension of rules and then walked out. This provided an easy path to the treasury for approval of a bundle of laws. The opposition members had also pointed out quorum three times but the chair ruled that the house was in order.

Interestingly, when the ICJ Review and Reconsideration Bill was moved, the opposition grouped before the speaker’s dais and shouted, “A friend to Modi is a traitor to the country” and “Hang Kulbhushan”.

The PML-N, a big player among the opposition in the National Assembly, had faced the same slogans, raised by the PTI leaders before Elections 2018, and when Modi had visited Nawaz Sharif.

The body language and conduct of the parliamentarians from both sides indicates that they don’t take legislation seriously. The opposition should have contested the legislation.

Ahsan Iqbal, a PML-N stalwart, says, “The government’s intent was mala fide. The MNAs should have been given at least 48 hours to review the bills before bringing them to the agenda after suspending the rules. He says that ICJR&R Bill 2002 is a conspiracy to provide relief to Jadhav.

“All parties should have been taken into confidence before tabling such a bill,” says Iqbal.

Farogh Nasim, the federal law minister, tried to justify the bill saying, “It was binding on the government under an ICJ verdict to move the law. I am shocked to see the opposition’s behaviour. It is as if they have not read the verdict that clearly asks Pakistan to make effective legislation to provide the right of review to the Indian spy.”

“What the opposition did is exactly what India wants. India would have gone for contempt proceedings at the ICJ, had we not passed the bill. The opposition understands this.”

When asked about the PPP perspective, Qamar Zaman Kaira, a PPP stalwart says, “I am not an MNA now. Any member of the PPP’s parliamentary group can say something concrete about it.”

PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel spoke on the floor of the house and strongly criticised Asad Qaiser, the speaker.

“The opposition did its best to stop the speaker from staining parliamentary history but he did not [refrain]. Now, we will move no-confidence against him.”

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the PML-N senior vice president, said, “How can we approve or oppose a bill without reading it? The treasury bulldozed legislation by suspending the rules of business. We were left with no option except walking out.”

“The episode says tonnes about the state of the legislation in Pakistan. Legislation is always a serious business and needs serious and in-depth participation of the legislators,” says Khaled Ahmed.

The ICJR&R Bill will be sent to the Senate for the approval of the Upper House. If it is passed, it will become a law after the president gives his assent. Under the law, the Indian spy will have the right to file a review petition in a high court against his conviction. A military court has sentenced Jadhav to death on espionage and terrorism charges after he was caught from Quetta. India had taken the case to the ICJ which had asked Pakistan to provide Jadhav the legal right to file a review petition against his conviction.

Khaled Ahmad, the senior analyst and foreign affairs expert, says, “The episode says tonnes about the state of the legislation in Pakistan. Legislation is always a serious business and needs serious and in-depth participation of the legislators.”

He says, “The government should have told the ICJ that there is a law in Pakistan already that gives the right to every convict, local and foreigner, to file an appeal against a decision of the military court.”

“Even if the law had not existed, the government should have given this right to Jadhav to tell the world that we are meeting all standards of justice in his case.”

If the case at the ICJ were contested properly, the ICJ would not have asked Pakistan for the legislation, says Ahmad.

On the noisy floor of the National Assembly, the treasury managed also to pass other bills including the following: the Election (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Financial Institutions (Secured Transactions) (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Port Qasim Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Gwadar Port Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Bill, 2020, the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matters) (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Federal Medical Teaching Institutes Bill, 2020, the National Institute of Health (Re-organization) Bill, 2020, the Maritime Security Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2021, International Court of Justice (Review and Re-consideration) Bill, 2020, the Covid-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Bill, 2020, the SBP Banking Services Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Corporate Restructuring Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Pakistan Academy of Letters (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Muslim Family Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020] (Section 4), the Muslim Family Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020] (Section 7) and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

The award for tabling and passing 21 bills in a single day in the National Assembly goes to the PTI. The attitude of the Opposition establishes that the parliamentary custom of saying ‘Aye’ and ‘No’ has nothing to do with the people rather it is related to personal ego and agendas.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of   journalism, writer and researcher. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

Chaos in the assembly