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ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday first convened a joint sitting of parliament for the presidential address on Thursday and regular sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate on Friday, and then cancelled them on the opposition parties’ request to avoid possible criticism on the move as it coincided with the funeral of former first lady Begum Kulsoom Nawaz.

Talking to Dawn, Minister for Information Fawad Cha­udhry said it was on the directive of Prime Minister Imran Khan that the government had taken back its decision of convening the already planned sessions when he came to know about the opposition’s request.

Earlier in the day, President Dr Arif Alvi on the advice of the government had convened the joint session of parliament on Thursday afternoon for addressing it and the regular sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate on Friday in which Finance Minister Asad Umar was to present the mini-budget for the remaining 10 months of the financial year.

Soon after the summoning of the sessions, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) protested over the government’s move to convene the sittings at a time when the party was in a state of mourning and had already announced suspension of its political activities for three days due to the demise of Kulsoom Nawaz.

Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that the party through former speaker Ayaz Sadiq had approached the government leaders and NA Speaker Asad Qaiser with the request to delay the sessions to enable the party legislators to attend them.

Similarly, speaking at a news conference, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had also suggested to the government to postpone the joint sitting on the PML-N’s request.

The government had disclosed its plan to convene the joint sitting for the maiden and mandatory address of President Alvi in a meeting of the parliamentary leaders presided over by Speaker Asad Qaiser on Monday.

The meeting had been convened by the speaker in an effort to seek cooperation from the opposition parties for conducting the proceedings smoothly. However, the opposition parties asked the government to constitute a parliamentary commission to probe the charges of rigging in the July 25 general elections before convening the joint sitting, if it wanted a smooth sailing in the parliament.

After the meeting, PTI’s Vice Chairman and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had confirmed that the opposition had put the condition of formation of the parliamentary commission for ensuring the smooth proceedings. He had stated that the PTI would make a decision on the opposition’s demand in the next few days after discussing it within the party.

Speaking at a news conference in Lahore last week, PML-N president and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif had asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to keep his words and constitute a powerful parliamentary commission to probe allegations of rigging in the July 25 general elections and recommend steps to block rigging attempts in future.

Mr Sharif had threatened that the opposition alliance would not let the house function if the commission to probe rigging allegations was not constituted.

Under Article 56(3) of the Constitution, the president is required to address the joint sitting of parliament at the commencement of the parliamentary year.

However, after the news of the death of Kulsoom Nawaz in London on Tuesday night, there was a general impression that the government might not go ahead with its plan. But on Wednesday, both the secretariats of the National Assembly and the Senate announced that the president had convened the sessions as planned.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2018