ISLAMABAD: Criticism from opposition parties notwithstanding, the government has decided to use its majority in the National Assembly for the passage of a controversial bill, which will turn Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) into a public limited company, by a joint session of the two houses of parliament.

According to National Assembly’s agenda for Monday, the government will present a motion before the house asking that the PIA bill be considered and passed by a joint sitting of parliament.

“Minister in-charge of cabinet division to move under sub-rule (7) of rule 154 of the Rules of Produce and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007 that the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (Conversion) Bill, 2016 as passed by the National Assembly and rejected by the Senate, be referred to the Joint Sitting for consideration and passage,” reads item number four on the order of the day.

187 MNAs, 25 senators give PML-N adequate numbers to pass the bill, with or without allies’ support

Rule number 154 (7) of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the National Assembly states that if rejected by the Senate, a government minister or an opposition member, as the case may be, can lay the bill for consideration during a joint sitting.

Over the last few months, PIA was the top priority of both treasury and opposition benches and the matter took many interesting twists and turns, both inside parliament and outside.

With a majority in the Senate, the PPP-led opposition bloc twice checkmated the government on the legislation which the opposition believes is meant to privatise the airline.

On Dec 31, the Senate embarrassed the government by adopting a resolution to disapprove the PIA ordinance, which the government had promulgated to convert the national flag carrier into a company.

In the third week of January, the government struck back and passed the bill through the National Assembly. Sticking to their guns, the opposition parties again rejected the bill in the upper house on March 4.

However, things will go the government’s way in a joint sitting where they will have a comfortable majority.

In a combined house of 446 members — 342 MNAs and 104 senators — the government should have no problem in getting the bill adopted with its 187 MNAs and 25 senators, with or without the help of allies.

PIA’s supposed privatisation was the burning issue in the first week of February when the airline’s employees union held an unprecedented demonstration, bringing flight operations to a grinding halt. But even the deaths of two protesters in Karachi on Feb 2 couldn’t deter the government’s resolve, as it imposed the Essential Services (Maintenance) Act on PIA employees in a bid to bring them back to work.

To a large extent, opposition parties’ objections could not be overruled. It is now a matter of record that the government is committed to divesting 26pc shares of the PIA and starting a new public sector airline, for its ongoing bailout package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A new company, by the name of Pakistan Airways, has already been registered.

With both sides taking up polarising positions, political observers expect to see a charged sitting of the National Assembly on Monday.

The two main opposition parties, PPP and PTI, have actively supported each other against the government and even joined hands, both inside and outside parliament, on the PIA issue.

“If the government continues bullying them, there is every chance that the PTI and PPP may end up joining hands, at least inside parliament, in future sittings,” said a journalist who has been covering parliamentary proceedings regularly.

In addition, all eyes are on the MQM to see how they will return to the house following former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal’s press conference against party chief Altaf Hussain, which has also led to a number of desertions from the party. 

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2016


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