ISLAMABAD: Both houses of parliament meet on Monday to begin sessions that will likely review a virtual siege of the capital last week in the name of a conjured up ‘revolution’ and take up some of the legislative backlog to be disposed of before coming elections.
The government will have to do some hard explaining how Allama Tahirul Qadri, head of Minhajul Quran non-governmental organisation, was allowed to bring tens of thousands of people threatening to topple it so close to its centre, before taking credit for a peaceful end to a dreadful spectacle that could have spilled blood.
There will also be a lot of talk in both houses about what many perceive as invisible support for the ‘long march’ and about all opposition parties coming out so strongly against any unconstitutional act to derail the democratic process, which began with the February 2008 elections and which is going to see an elected civilian government complete its five-year term by mid-March.
A week ago, many lawmakers may not have expected to return to parliament in their present positions, given the confidence with which the cleric-turned-politician went about declaring them dismissed, or “ex”, at the start of the ‘dharna’, or sit-in, on Jan 14 after the so-called ‘long march’ from Lahore, and some subsequent developments including some hasty, and apparently faulty, interpretations of a Supreme Court order involving Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, which the demagogue portrayed as “half work done” and which caused the Karachi Stock Exchange to crash.
But little will have changed, at least physically, when the National Assembly and the Senate both meet separately at 4pm, thanks to the imagined ‘revolution’ producing only the so-called “Islamabad Long March Declaration” that kept everybody in their places after the ‘divine help’ the Allama had asked for did not arrive and but gave him a symbolic role of opinion in the choice of a caretaker prime minister who will oversee the next elections.
The National Assembly’s earlier plans to meet from Jan 14 to 23 was disrupted by the ‘long march’ arriving in Islamabad the same day, and the present session is scheduled for Jan 21-30, while the Senate session was advanced only by a day from Jan 22 to last until Jan 31.
Besides their expected discussions on the implications of the ‘long march’, the two houses have some important legislative business to handle, including a long-pending bill to create an independent National Accountability Commission, which will replace the Musharraf-era National Accountability Bureau, to prosecute corruption by holders of public office.
The bill, already approved by the National Assembly’s standing committee on law and justice, has been held up by objections by the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-N.
The National Assembly is also expected to pass a key tax amnesty law, known as Tax Laws (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced in the house in its last session last month and which stipulates payment of a nominal tax on undeclared domestic and foreign assets and income to make them ‘white’.
The Senate, in a brief session early this month, made its recommendations about the bill, which will not be binding for the National Assembly to accept because the legislation is a money bill, like the budget, requiring passage by only the lower house.
The Senate will take up another important legislation known as the Fair Trial Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly last month to allow the use of modern techniques like wire-tapping and monitoring of emails and SMS text messages to be used as valid evidence in a court against terrorism suspects.
While Allama Qadri had dropped his demands for the dissolution of assemblies and dismissal of the federal and provincial governments, his accord with the government before ordering his followers to go home, scheduled a meeting by his side with Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek on Jan 27 to further consider constitutional obstacles to fulfil his demand for a reconstitution of the Election Commission. But it seemed to be just a face-saving for the Allama because such a course requires an amendment of the constitution for which no political party in parliament is ready.