ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly witnessed on Thursday two opposition walkouts, a power blackout and the passage of six bills, which also included the controversial law to convert the national flag carrier into a public limited company.

The Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (Conversion) Bill 2015 was not originally on the agenda for the day, and only the reports of two house committees on the PIA issue were to be discussed.

But halfway through the session, PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar wised up to the government’s plans when he noticed and objected to the introduction of the bill as a supplementary agenda item.

Questioning the government’s desperation, he said the ruling party had the numbers to pass the bill whenever it wanted, and asked “despite your majority, can your members only come on one day and all bills must be passed on the same day?”

He warned that if the government bulldozed the bill through the lower house, it would definitely be shot down in the Senate, where the PML-N does not have a majority.

MQM’s Syed Ali Raza Abedi then presented suggestions that he claimed the party had laid before the government at the standing committee phase, which could help PIA recover its lost glory within the existing framework.

Then, as Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sheikh Aftab Ahmed moved the bill for passage, opposition members erupted in protest, disrupting house proceedings. However, government members seemed quite calm, only occasionally responding to the opposition’s taunts with a jibe of their own.

Despite another walkout when the PTI was not allowed to give its perspective, the opposition walked out again, alleging that the introduction of the bill was against the rules. Speaking to the media outside the National Assembly, Asad Umar said, “If anyone had any doubts that something was amiss with the government’s plans for PIA, those fears have been confirmed today.”

He claimed that the government had bulldozed the bill through the assembly because they had no answers to the question the opposition had posed to them in the several committees that the bill had passed through.

Earlier, the opposition had walked out to protest the passage of the tax amnesty bill. Even though PTI’s Shafqat Mehmood sneaked back into the house and tried to disrupt the vote by pointing out quorum, but the house was found to be in order.

Since they knew this would be the last sitting of the session before the house was prorogued, the treasury benches seemed well-prepared to deal with whatever the opposition threw their way. Although sparsely populated early in the morning, the government benches began to fill up rapidly after noon and, by the time the bills were tabled for passage, the treasury alone had enough members in the house to satisfy quorum requirements.

Mr Mehmood remained the sole lawmaker on the opposition benches for quite some time, but was eventually shouted down by PML-N’s Mian Manan and Khawaja Saad Rafique.

Despite a feeble effort from the opposition to block its passage, next to pass was the Banks (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill 2015. However, this was punctuated by a brief power outage, which plunged the chamber into darkness. When the generators kicked in, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked for an explanation. Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif soon came back with a report about the fire that had disrupted the 500kv line from Guddu, plunging the northern half of the country into darkness.

Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique then moved a resolution, sponsored by members of all political parties in parliament, regarding the Charsadda attack, which was passed unanimously.

In addition, the house also passed the Equity Fund Participation (Repeal) Bill 2014, the Offences in Respect of Banks (Special Courts) Amendment Bill 2015 and, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2015, on Thursday

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2016