ISLAMABAD: The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Tuesday agreed to withdraw its requisition notice after the government announced that it would convene the National Assembly session from May 11.
Talking to reporters after attending a meeting of the special committee of the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced that the government and the opposition had reached an understanding for convening the physical session of the assembly under strict adherence to health guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for ensuring safety of the members and the staff of the National Assembly Secretariat.
The PML-N made the withdrawal of its requisition notice for convening the NA session with a categorical announcement of a date by the government for summoning the regular assembly session. This is the second time in six weeks that the PML-N has withdrawn its requisition notice.
The party had submitted the requisition notice carrying signatures of 98 opposition members on April 22 under Article 54(3) of the Constitution with a seven-point agenda, mainly seeking discussions on issues related to the coronavirus situation in the country. Under the Constitution, the speaker was bound to convene the assembly session within 14 days i.e. by May 6 (today).
PML-N withdraws requisition notice after FM’s assurance
The government and the opposition members had been discussing the SOPs for conducting physical session of the assembly for the past several weeks, but the situation became grave when Speaker Asad Qaiser tested positive for Covid-19 on May 1, leading to the complete shutdown of the National Assembly Secretariat and the Parliament House building till May 9 “for cleaning and disinfecting the building in order to minimise the potential risk of spreading Covid-19”.
Mr Qaiser has quarantined himself at his residence in native Swabi town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since he and some of his family members had tested positive for the virus.
After the meeting, FM Qureshi said the NA sittings would be held on alternate days for a limited duration and only to hold a discussion on the current situation due to spread of Covid-19 across the country and the steps taken by the government to fight the pandemic. The purpose of the debate would be to build a national consensus on the Covid-19 situation, he said.
Mr Qureshi expressed the hope that the government and the opposition would also agree on modalities for convening the budget session of the assembly, which is expected to be held soon after Eidul Fitr.
Quorum, question hour
Giving details of the government-opposition agreement, Mr Qureshi said there would be no question hour during the session. Similarly, he said call-attention notices and privilege and adjournment motions would also not be taken up during the session.
As far as the attendance of the members was concerned, the minister said the issue had been left on the parliamentary leaders of the parties as they would decide as to which member would attend the sitting on which day.
Mr Qureshi also disclosed that they had reached an understanding that quorum would not be pointed out during the sittings. Under the Constitution, the presence of one-fourth members (86 members) of the 342-member house is a must to carry out the business.
The foreign minister said the visitors’ galleries would remain closed during the sittings and only journalists would be allowed to sit in the press gallery. He said the Parliamentary Reporters Association, being the representative body of the parliamentary reporters, would decide the number of journalists to cover the assembly proceedings and it would prepare its own SOPs for the purpose.
A senior opposition leader who attended the meeting told Dawn that the upcoming session was expected to last only a week. He said the opposition had agreed not to point out quorum on the condition that the government would not move any important legislation that would require voting. He said they had clearly told the government that it would have to give a prior notice to the opposition members, if it wanted to do some legislation to provide ample time to the opposition to ensure presence of their members.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly Secretariat also issued a handout after the meeting of the committee, presided over by Minister for National Food Security and Research Fakhar Imam.
It says the committee has decided to recommend plying special flights from Karachi and Quetta to Islamabad for transportation of the members during the session. It has also been recommended that the parliamentarians and the staff of the secretariat would be tested for coronavirus ahead of the session.
It says that PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif during the committee meeting announced withdrawal of the requisition submitted by his party and its allies for summoning the session on the foreign minister’s assurance to summon the assembly session next week.
The speaker had constituted the special committee under former speaker Imam to propose amendments to the rules and procedures or the Constitution for allowing holding of the virtual session. But the PML-N rejected the idea of convening the virtual session of the assembly, terming it a “conspiracy” by the ruling party to make parliament redundant and non-functional.
Last week, the committee had finally ruled out the option of holding a virtual session of parliament in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and agreed that the government should convene a physical session of the assembly in a routine manner.
The parliamentary leaders who attended the meeting were of the opinion that parliament embodied the will of the people and, therefore, it should be made functional to continue its role of parliamentary oversight of the executive.
Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2020