ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday kept for a week more what some senior parliamentarians called a sword of deseating hanging over 28 members of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for absenting themselves for 40 consecutive days during their party’s long protest sit-in last year.

Both opposition leader Khurshid Ahmed Shah and PTI vice-chairman Shah Mamhood Qureshi sought the issue to be disposed of immediately without penalty as the house took up two identical motions of the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the government-allied Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) seeking to declare the 28 PTI seats vacant because their occupants remained absent from the house without leave when their party boycotted it after resigning.

But as the movers of the motions, who invoked a clause of the Constitution to punish the country’s second largest opposition party for the controversial protest, pressed their demand, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, on behalf of the government, sought a deferment of the issue to seek a consensus, to which Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq agreed until the next private members’ day on Aug 4.

The move came when the PTI was still reeling from the shock of a judicial commission report published on Thursday that threw out the party’s allegations of massive rigging in the 2013 general elections, over which it had organised the 126-day ‘dharna’.

MQM member Mohammad Salman Khan Baloch and JUI-F’s Naeema Kishwar Khan had separately moved the two motions on April 22, invoking Clause (2) of Article 64 of the Constitution but the issue had not been taken up until now while the PTI had ended its boycott of the house in December and the three-judge commission headed by the Supreme Court Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk investigated PTI’s charges.

The speaker had refused to entertain the resignations by 29 of the 34 party members of the house unless each of them individually met him to confirm they had resigned out of their own free will.

With five of them not resigning, only one of those who did, then party president Javed Hashmi, confirmed in the house that he had resigned and thus lost his seat while the rest of them refused to meet the speaker individually and thus escaped losing their seats.

But the two motions of the MQM and JUI-F members relied on a clause which says “a house may declare the seat of a member vacant if, without leave of the house, he remains absent for 40 consecutive days of its sittings”.

Mr Khurshid Shah said now that the PTI members were performing their constitutional functions since ending their boycott in December and the party had also accepted the judicial commission’s report, the deseating motions should not be pressed and the matter be settled right now to avoid creating more doubts.

“In our view, this sword should not be left hanging,” he said.

Mr Qureshi, who bore the brunt of invective mainly from the MQM and JUI-F in the absence of party chairman Imran Khan, praised the role of the speaker in keeping the PTI lawmakers’ membership alive and also Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reported remarks in a meeting with PML-N members on Monday against accepting the deseating motions. He said: “If you consider us members (of the house), let us play our role and this sword should not be left hanging.

“Do not defer the matter, resolve the matter,” he said.

But Mr Dar said he had yet to consult JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman and convince MQM’s deputy parliamentary leader Abdul Rashid Godail, who was most aggressive from his party’s speakers and often received cheers from the back benches of the ruling PML-N.

“It will be counter-productive to put the motion to vote,” Mr Dar said. “A withdrawal will be much more honourable than putting it to vote. Solve it with consensus.”

It was after a lot of arguments between Mr Shah and Mr Dar over the next date to consider the issue -- from Wednesday to Thursday -- that the speaker deferred it until “the next private members’ day”.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2015

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