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LAHORE: With the Pakistan Peoples Party poised to table a bill in the National Assembly looking to undo a clause in the Elections Act 2017 that made it possible for the ousted prime minister to resume his position as head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Nawaz Sharif on Monday asked NA Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and other key legislators to ensure the presence of party MNAs in the house on Tuesday (today) to block the opposition’s move.

“Nawaz Sharif telephoned Mr Sadiq and other important legislators of the party on Monday and directed them to ensure the presence of most PML-N MNAs at the NA session on Tuesday to block the PPP’s amendment to the Elections Act 2017 with a simple majority,” a PML-N leader from Punjab told Dawn.

Last week at the time of the passage of the 24th constitution amendment bill seeking delimitation of constituencies ahead of next elections, around 20 PML-N MNAs had claimed that they had received phone calls from unknown numbers warning them not to attend the NA session last Thursday.

Some PML-N leaders fear that a few of the party’s MNAs have been deliberately staying away from the scheduled NA sessions, causing the party much embarrassment.

PPP seeks to undo clause that allowed ex-PM to head PML-N again; Sharif mobilises party to thwart amendment bill

“Sensing ‘a lack of interest’ by PML-N MNAs in the ongoing session and after hearing news of the threatening calls made to stop MNAs from attending NA sessions, Mr Sharif has tasked party stalwarts to speak to those who received threatening calls and ensure their presence in the lower house,” the PML-N leader said.

Senator Pervaiz Rashid, a close aide to the former prime minister, told Dawn that the party would make sure that its MNAs would attend the session and block the opposition’s move to challenge the Elections Act 2017.

Answering a question about possible defections in the party, the senator said: “None of the PML-N’s MNAs are going to defect. The party is united under the leadership of Mian Sahib.”

The PPP claims that it has taken the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf on board regarding the bill.

“We are with the PPP in their attempt to get this bill approved in order to stop a person — who has been disqualified by the apex court — from heading a political party. PTI chief Imran Khan is also considering attending the session ... but a final decision [in this regard] will be taken in the morning,” PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn.

MNA Aijaz Hussain Jakhrani of the PPP said that the PTI and other opposition parties had assured them of their complete support in getting the bill passed.

“Hopefully the PML-N will not be able to get a simple majority in the house to block this proposed bill,” he said.

Another PML-N leader said that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had called a parliamentary party meeting ahead of the NA session on Tuesday.

“The premier has issued directions to all PML-N MNAs to ensure their presence in the meeting to counter the opposition’s move to amend the Elections Act 2017,” he said.

However, PTI MNA Murad Saeed told Dawn that the opposition would not let the speaker prorogue the session in case the PML-N failed to bring the required number of MNAs to the house.

“We will table the bill to stop a disqualified person from heading a political party. Even the ruling party’s MNAs will be asked by their voters to nullify this controversial legislation that made disqualified Nawaz Sharif the head of the PML-N,” said Mr Saeed.

Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah has also convened the meeting of the PPP parliamentary group just before the start of the NA session on Tuesday evening.

Normally sessions on Tuesday are held in the morning. However, in an apparent move to seek more time to ensure the presence of the maximum number of ruling party members, the session has been convened in the evening.

The bill — seeking an amendment to the Elections Act 2017 — stands in the name of PPP’s Naveed Qamar and Dr Azra Fazal in the 55-point agenda issued for the private members sitting on Tuesday. It has already been passed by the Senate. It seeks to amend Section 203 of the Elections Act 2017, which lifted the legal bar on a person from serving as an office-bearer of a political party, even if he or she was not qualified to be, or was disqualified from being, elected as a member of parliament under Article 63 of the Constitution.

In order to foil the opposition’s move, the ruling PML-N requires a simple majority — more members than the opposition at the time of the introduction of the bill. The opposition can press for a headcount in case the speaker tries to reject the bill simply on voice vote.

Under the rules and standard parliamentary practices, a bill is always referred to the standing committee concerned for further deliberations, but if the opposition manages to defeat the government through the vote at the time of its introduction, it can press for suspension of the rules so that the bill is passed without being referred to the committee. The speaker’s role becomes extremely important in such situations.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2017