Two houses of parliament convened on 24-hour notice

Updated January 01, 2020

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Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani said he had failed to understand the reasons behind convening the sessions within 24 hours. — APP/File
Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani said he had failed to understand the reasons behind convening the sessions within 24 hours. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: In a move that took many by surprise, the government on Tuesday convened both houses of parliament to meet on a 24-hour notice.

While the opposition appeared to be wondering as to what was the need for convening the sessions of parliament in such haste, the government said the decision had been taken to take the legislature into confidence over recent important developments.

When contacted, former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani said he had failed to understand the reasons behind convening the sessions within 24 hours. He said in foggy weather many members from other cities would find it difficult to reach Islamabad in time.

He regretted that the Senate session had only been convened a day after the opposition had requisitioned it. He said the government continues to ignore the parliament and pointed out that the Senate would be meeting after a gap of 124 days, apart from a requisitioned session convened in between.

Opposition baffled over the haste in convening the sessions

A regular session of the Senate was last held from Aug 29 to Sept 3 while the previous National Assembly session was abruptly prorogued on Dec 16. The NA session under a decision taken by the business advisory committee was to continue till Dec 20, but was abruptly prorogued early for some unknown reasons.

Mr Rabbani said under Article 54 of the Constitution the president might from time to time summon either house or both houses of parliament in joint sitting to meet at such time and place as he thought fit and might also prorogue the same. Article 54 (2) reads: “There shall be at least 3 [three] sessions of the National Assembly every year and not more than one hundred and twenty days shall intervene between the last sitting of the Assembly in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.”

Article 61 reads: “The provisions of clauses (2) to (7) of Article 53, clauses (2) and (3) of Article 54 and Article 55 shall apply to the Senate as they apply to the National Assembly and, in their application to the Senate, shall have effect as if references therein to the National Assembly, Speaker and Deputy Speaker were references, respectively, to the Senate, Chairman and Deputy Chairman ….”

Mr Rabbani said this meant that a constitutional provision had conveniently been ignored by the government, which now is convening both the houses to meet at a short notice.

Parliamentary Leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the Senate Sherry Rehman said the government had abruptly called a Senate session without giving a 48-hour notice, which was inappropriate and had caused inconvenience to the Senators during the smog season when flights were unavailable.

“How will those flying in from Sindh and Balochistan make it?”

She said the Senate session had not been called in 120 days despite repeated requests and letters to the ministry of parliamentary affairs, while the upper house still has to meet for 56 days to complete the parliamentary year.

“When the government finally decided to call one, they badly mistimed it. Is this some new way to break the opposition’s strength in the Senate? Their lack of seriousness is unbelievable,” she said.

Ms Rehman said Pakistan was facing multiple challenges like economic and foreign policy issues, but every issue of national or public importance was being decided through ordinances without consulting the parliament, the recent being amendments to the NAB ordinance to avoid accountability.

“No wonder PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf) does not care about following the constitutionally laid out procedures in Article 61,” she said.

MNA Shazia Marri of the PPP said the “out of mind” government wanted to run parliament in a haphazard way, just as it was running the country.

She said it was 5pm on Tuesday when the members were informed through media about the parliament sessions to be held the very next day.

“Neither were the members taken into confidence nor was the notification of the meeting issued. The members should have been informed about the meeting at least 48 hours earlier. How the members will be able to attend the session in this weather condition?

“Does the government want the members not to attend the session?”

Ms Marri said the government had failed on every front. “If Imran Khan cannot run the government then he should go home because people and their representatives are suffering due to his inability to run the country properly. Parliament is not Imran Khan’s cabinet which he wants to run according to his wishes.”

Leader of the house in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz told Dawn that the opposition’s clamour was surprising as the parliament’s sessions had been convened on their request.

He said after the opposition submitted a requisition with the Senate secretariat on Monday, he had contacted leader of the opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, Sherry Rehman and other parliamentary leaders and told them that the government was convening the Senate as a session on their requisition would need 14 days.

He said important developments had taken place since the last session was held and the government wanted to take the house into confidence.

He said Prime Minister Khan would attend the coming Senate session.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2020