Presidential address to parliament put off at last moment

Updated August 30, 2019

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The government on Thursday cancelled the joint sitting of parliament convened on Friday (today) for a constitutionally mandatory address of President Arif Alvi. — DawnNewsTV/File
The government on Thursday cancelled the joint sitting of parliament convened on Friday (today) for a constitutionally mandatory address of President Arif Alvi. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday cancelled the joint sitting of parliament convened on Friday (today) for a constitutionally mandatory address of President Arif Alvi, prompting a strong reaction from opposition parties which have been flexing their muscles for lodging a protest and disrupting the proceedings over the issue of appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The leaders of two major opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — claimed that the government had cancelled the joint sitting without taking them into confidence and due to the fear of a strong reaction from them over the “unconstitutional act” of bypassing parliament on the issue of appointment of the ECP members by President Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The government has also cancelled the regular session of the National Assembly scheduled for Sept 2.

“The president has been pleased to revoke the Presidential Order dated 17th August 2019 for summoning both the houses to assemble together for presidential address on 30th August 2019 in the Parliament House,” says a notification issued by the National Assembly Secretariat on Thursday evening. Another notification says that the president has also revoked his order of summoning the National Assembly session on Sept 2.

Opposition claims government has cancelled joint sitting due to fear of strong reaction over ‘unconstitutional’ appointment of ECP members

When contacted, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry rebutted the opposition’s claim, saying the session had been put off to allow the members of parliament to visit their respective constituencies on Friday to participate in the Kashmir protest on the call of Prime Minister Khan. He said the opposition could hold the protest when the joint sitting would be convened after Ashura (10th of Muharram) falling on Sept 9 or 10.

On the other hand, PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb alleged that the government had postponed the joint sitting as it wanted to create a constitutional crisis in the country. Talking to Dawn, Ms Aurangzeb said the government had no courage to face the opposition over the issue of “illegal appointment” of the two ECP members and that was why it was running away from parliament.

Responding to a question about the opposition’s plan to disrupt the proceedings of parliament, she said they only wanted to seek a reply from the government over the issue of ECP members’ appointment, adding that it was the right of the opposition to raise in parliament the matter of “serious violation of the Constitution” by the president and the prime minister. She said even Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza had in his order declared the appointment of two ECP members as “unconstitutional”.

PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal in a statement said the government had postponed the sitting so that the opposition could not question the “illegal act” of the president and the prime minister. He said that after “attacking” the judiciary, the rulers had now attacked parliament, adding that the “selected prime minister” had not been coming to parliament to give answers to opposition’s questions.

Sources told Dawn that the opposition parties had made a plan to prevent the president from delivering his speech in parliament through a noisy protest. However, they said, the opposition parties had decided to keep its plan secret till the last moment.

The sources said that while discussing the issue of ECP members’ appointment, members of the opposition’s Rahbar Committee had in their meeting on Aug 26 discussed the option of moving an impeachment resolution against the president.

A PPP office-bearer, who was present in the meeting, had stated that the president could be impeached under Article 47 of the Constitution for “violating the Constitution”.

Article 47 of the Constitution states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution, the President may, in accordance with the provisions of this Article, be removed from office on the ground of physical or mental incapacity or impeached on a charge of violating the Constitution or gross misconduct.”

At a news conference after the meeting, Akram Durrani, the convener of the committee, had said the “unconstitutional appointment” of the ECP members provided a legal and constitutional justification to impeach the president. He said that even the CEC had refused to administer the oath to the newly appointed ECP members, terming their appointment illegal. “Has the president not violated the constitution?” he had asked.

President Alvi was to address the joint session on Friday at the commencement of the new parliamentary year under Article 56(3) of the Constitution, which says: “At the commencement of the first session after each general election to the National Assembly and at the commencement of the first session of each year, the President shall address both Houses assembled together and inform the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) of the causes of its summons.”

The National Assembly completed its first parliamentary year on Aug 12. On July 29, when a planned session was prorogued by the president, more than 50 government and private members’ bills were lying pending before the house committees, which were constituted by Speaker Asad Qaiser after an inordinate delay due to a controversy over the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2019