ISLAMABAD: In a tactical move, the government has decided to delay for one day voting on the crucial bill seeking revival of military courts.

According to sources, the step has been taken following fears in the government camp that it may not be able to ensure the presence of a maximum number of legislators on Monday evening, when the National Assembly is set to resume its session after a two-day recess.

A meeting of the ruling PML-N’s parliamentary party scheduled for Monday has also been postponed and will now be held on Tuesday.

The sources said NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq called the parliamentary leaders of several political parties on Sunday and took them into confidence on the change of plans, which had originally been made during their meeting on March 16.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced that the constitutional amendment bill and the amendment to the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) would be put to vote on Tuesday (tomorrow).

Mr Dar said amendments to the already tabled constitutional amendment bill and PAA had been “lodged in the National Assembly in the light of the consensus [reached] in the parliamentary leaders meeting”.

“The house will discuss the consensus bills on Monday (today) and the same will be put to vote on Tuesday, as discussed by the National Assembly speaker with parliamentary leaders,” the minister said. But he did not explain how these amendments would be incorporated in the already introduced bills.

Under rules, amendments to an already introduced bill can only be moved either before standing committees or during its clause-by-clause reading in the house. However, in case of constitutional amendment, a vote by a two-thirds majority of members is required for each and every amendment. The only other possibility is that the government withdraws the bills and moves fresh drafts that already contain the amendments.

Mr Dar’s statement said it was agreed at the parliamentary leaders’ meeting that a parliamentary committee on national security would also be set up to oversee judicial reforms, national security issues and implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.

The minister said a resolution seeking formation of the parliamentary committee would also be moved in the assembly on Monday. Against this backdrop, he said, the PML-N’s parliamentary party meeting would now be held on Tuesday.

The main purpose of convening this meeting is to ensure the presence of PML-N lawmakers in the lower house.

PPP parliamentary leader Syed Naveed Qamar told Dawn that he had received three phone calls from the speaker, informing him about the delay in voting on the bill.

In Mr Qamar’s words, it seemed that the government was worried about the attendance of its lawmakers and the decision to delay the passage of the bills had been taken to ensure that all its members reached Islamabad by Monday evening.

Tuesdays are usually private members’ day in the National Assembly and, as such, rarely see the introduction of any government business.

If the government wishes to vote on the two bills on Tuesday, it will have to move a motion to suspend the rules and then seek a vote on the bills for revival of military courts.

The government and the opposition had last week agreed to extend the tenure of military courts for another two years after the PPP withdrew two of its main proposals, paving the way for an across-the-board consensus.

The proposed 28th Constitution Amendment Bill (which will become the 23rd constitutional amendment after its passage) is similar to the 21st amendment, which was enforced in 2015 to establish military courts for a period of two years.

After the parliamentary leaders’ meeting, the NA speaker said religious parties had objected to the use of the word “religious” in the proposed bill and, therefore, it was decided that only the word “misuse” was being incorporated from the sentence “use and misuse of religious groups” that already existed in the original military courts bill of 2015.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017

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