ISLAMABAD: Taking his party’s confrontation with the judiciary to the floor of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday called for an ultimate debate in parliament as to who has the final say in legislation.
The prime minister — who had come to the house for the speech after presiding over a meeting of the parliamentary group of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) — severely criticised the judicial activism, alleging that it was badly affecting the functioning of his government.
Though the opposition parties responded positively to the prime minister’s proposal and agreed that there was a need for a parliamentary debate on the role and powers of state institutions, they expressed their doubt over the “sincerity” of the ruling party about the issue, alleging that the PML-N’s main purpose seemed to be only saving Nawaz Sharif’s political future.
Before taking of the floor by the prime minister, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai while speaking on a point of order also criticised the judiciary for taking suo motu notices on every matter. He invited the attention of the house to the alleged interference by the armed forces and intelligence agencies in the upcoming Senate polls and accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of playing a major role in the recent change of government in Balochistan.
Calls for debate on right of legislation; guarded welcome by PPP, PTI leaders
Mr Achakzai said that both the chief justice and the army chief claimed that they were democrats, but “it is not possible that they [the CJP and COAS] are not aware of such things”.
“I appeal to the chief justice of Pakistan and the army chief. If you are loyal to the oath you have taken, then stop interfering into politics,” Mr Achakzai said, alleging that an army brigadier was still busy [in meddling in the political affairs] in Balochistan.
The prime minister lamented over the passing of derogatory remarks by certain judges for elected representatives.
“I was not willing to say this but it had become necessary. The elected representatives of the 207 million people are being dubbed as thief, robber and mafia. Sometimes threats are being hurled that we [judges] will nullify the legislation that you [parliamentarians] have passed,” Mr Abbasi said in his apparent reference to the ongoing hearing of the petitions challenging the Elections Act 2017 which enabled disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif to re-assume the office of the party president.
“Government officers are summoned to court and then they are insulted and thrown out. How long will this continue?” he asked, adding that “today, for government functionaries, the easiest way is to do no work. No one will question them. If you do any work, you will be probed”.
Mr Abbasi asked the parliamentarians to decide once and for all, if they had the right to do legislation or they would have to seek prior approval for it.
The prime minister said the Constitution had defined the powers and jurisdiction of all the institutions and they must perform within their parameters, as any conflict among the national institutions would be detrimental to the country. It had been witnessed repeatedly that in case of any conflict, it was the country that suffered, he added.
“To avoid a conflict, the house should hold a debate. This is not a partisan debate. This is not a party’s debate. This is the house’s debate,” he went on saying.
“This is not criticism against any institution. I am presenting facts before you,” the prime minister said.
Mr Abbasi was supported by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who criticised the judiciary for being generous in granting stay orders against the directives of the government.
“Today, the situation is that we cannot run the departments. We cannot sack even a peon. If I sack a peon or any person on charges of corruption, he will come next day with a stay order from a court,” the interior minister said.
For the past seven years, the minister added, he had been unable to get a stay vacated in a dispute over the construction of a girls’ college in his constituency of Narowal.
Mr Iqbal said there was a need that all state institutions work in harmony with each other.
Welcoming the prime minister’s proposal, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah said such a debate should have taken place much earlier.
However, he reminded the PML-N lawmakers that their party had not supported the PPP government when it had to legislate for the 20th Amendment on a directive of the Supreme Court.
Mr Shah also reminded the treasury members that he had suggested to them a year ago that the issue of the Panama Papers should be resolved through parliament, but no one paid any heed to his call at that time.
He regretted that the government had never taken the opposition or the parliament into confidence while taking major decisions or doing important legislations.
He said the opposition was ready to cooperate with the government, if it introduced any legislation, provided the legislation should be in the interest of the country and not person-specific.
Shafqat Mehmood of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) said the PML-N had been in power since 1990, but it did nothing to improve the judicial system.
Mr Mehmood said that on the one hand the government talked about the supremacy of parliament and on the other hand it had recently made a major decision of sending the troops to Saudi Arabia without bringing the matter to parliament that had passed a resolution on the matter of the Saudi-Yemen conflict.
The PTI lawmaker said he knew as to why the PML-N was crying this time, as the ruling party was afraid that the Supreme Court was about to give its verdict on petitions challenging Clause 203 of the Elections Act.
He was of the opinion that the PML-N had no concerns about parliament’s sanctity or supremacy and they only wanted to save an individual.
Mr Mehmood said despite the fact that all the parties had agreed on judicial reforms through the National Action Plan, the government took no step in this regard. He criticised the PML-N for attacking the judiciary at public meetings. By ridiculing the judges, he said, they were not doing any service to democracy.
He said it was true that the Constitution had pre-defined the jurisdictions of institutions, but it also talked about “balance of power”.
“End your targeted attacks (on judiciary), bring legislation in the best interest of democracy, and we will support you,” the PTI leader concluded.
The House witnessed rumpus for a brief time when Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi turned off the mike of Mr Mehmood.
Later, when the deputy speaker gave floor to PTI’s firebrand MNA, PML-N legislator Abdul Mannan pointed out lack of quorum, forcing the deputy speaker to adjourn the proceedings till Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah and Prime Minister Abbasi held a meeting at the chamber of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.
The newly-elected MNA from Lodhran, Iqbal Shah, was administered the oath as the MNA amidst desk-thumping by the treasury members.
Earlier, giving a policy statement, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that putting Pakistan’s name on the watchlist of the countries funding terrorism would be counter-productive for the war against terror. He said the US move to put Pakistan on the watchlist during the ongoing meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris was aimed at putting pressure on Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2018