ISLAMABAD: The Senate, short of quorum, on Wednesday passed the elections (amendment) bill, removing the last legal hitch in the way of upcoming provincial assembly polls for 16 general seats in the erstwhile Fata.
The bill to amend Section 20 of the Elections Act, 2017, has already been passed by the National Assembly to give a legal cover to the delimitation carried out by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) allocating one seat to the scattered frontier regions, in order to avert the disenfranchisement of these populations.
The new Sub-section 2-A has been inserted into Section 20, and reads: “For the purpose of delimiting constituencies, for the general seats of the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for tribal areas, two or more separate areas may be grouped into one constituency for their elections to be held in 2019 and by-elections related therein, and thereafter this sub-section shall stand omitted.”
Earlier, an ordinance to this effect had been promulgated by the president on Jan 1, a day before the ECP notified the draft delimitation proposal for the tribal districts.
The bill was passed shortly after the opposition parties staged a walkout from the house to protest the absence of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in order to explain the controversial remarks Prime Minister Imran Khan made in Iran.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Khan Swati had a Foreign Office brief and was ready to respond on behalf of the foreign minister regarding the statement the prime minister made in Tehran that terrorists had in the past used Pakistan’s soil to undertake attacks in Iran.
The opposition benches did not allow Mr Swati to respond, however, and insisted that, first, Prime Minister Imran Khan should have been present in the house to defend his statement, and second, if not, then Mr Qureshi should at least have been present as “the statement had wide implications.”
Mr Swati insisted that there was no such requirement in the law and under the principle of collective responsibility, he had the right to respond on behalf of his Cabinet colleague.
Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani also upheld the position taken by the minister, prompting the opposition to stage a walkout.
Soon after, Leader of the House Senator Shibli Faraz criticised the disruption of house proceedings more than once within a week and blamed former chairman of the Senate and PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani for the mess. He said Mr Rabbani used to run the Senate like a military academy and was very strict in allowing points of order during proceedings, but regretted that his (Mr Rabbani) standards appear to have changed as now, disruption starts soon after the recitation from the Holy Quran.
“It must be seen how much the opposition is serious about the running of the house,” he said. Mr Faraz also said that one or two “other opposition lawmakers” were also instrumental in planning these walkouts — a statement that was endorsed by his party colleague Senator Noman Wazir.
The chair, in his ruling, said that the opposition benches should propose an amendment to the constitutional provision of collective responsibility. He also said that not a single prime minister had ever attended the ‘Zero Hour’ since rules were amended to bind the chief executive to respond to senators’ answers.
Earlier, former Senate chairman Mr Rabbani said that the prime minister should himself have come to the house to explain his statement. He also read out Rule 61 (2-A) of the rules of procedure and conduct of business in the Senate, under which the prime minister is to respond to questions related to him once in a week during Zero Hour.
Nauman Wazir of the PTI pointed out that words like ‘whenever possible’ and ‘when available’ had been used in the rule, which clearly means it was not bending.
Condemning the attack targeting police outside Data Darbar in Lahore, PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman remarked that unfortunately, terrorism had been rearing its head in Ramazan, but “ neither has the opposition been taken into confidence on the implementation of the National Action Plan nor has the PM issued any statement in this regard.” Urging that the PM be pressed to attend the Senate, Ms Rehman asked, “Why does the prime minister not visit the house?” She urged that the PM should brief the house on NAP implementation.
After the house passed the bill in the absence of opposition, the chair dropped the call attention notice on the PM’s Iran remarks.
Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2019