ISLAMABAD: Despite having a majority in the joint session of parliament, the opposition was unable to realise its plan to block ‘controversial’ legislation on Wednesday, giving the government a smooth ride in getting passed eight bills, including three related to implementation of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) laws.
The combined strength of the Senate (104) and National Assembly (342) is 446 members, but only 390 of them took part in the voting — 200 from the treasury benches and 190 from the opposition. It means that 53 members were absent from the joint session.
However, it was announced that 41 legislators were missing — 32 from the opposition and nine from the treasury benches.
The opposition parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party, have decided to take action against those members who did not attend the session. Some of the members regretted that they had to stay away from the event because of illness or family issues. A good number put the blame on the Presidency for making an announcement about the joint sitting at the eleventh hour.
PML-N, PPP to take action against absentees
These parties also levelled allegations against Speaker Asad Qaiser, calling him “biased” for not allowing the opposition leaders to speak during the joint session.
According to the record, 26 MNAs and 13 senators did not take part in the sitting. The ruling coalition, lead by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), has a strength of 180 members in the National Assembly and 36 in the Senate, giving it a combined strength of 216 in the joint session.
It means that 16 members from the treasury benches stayed away.
The opposition has 162 seats in the National Assembly — Pakistan Muslim League-N has 85, Pakistan Peoples Party 54, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) 16, Awami National Party one and Balochistan National Party four.
In Senate, the opposition has 67 seats: PML-N 30 (but one of its members, Ishaq Dar, has not taken oath and lives abroad), PPP 21, MMA six, ANP and BNP one each, National Party (NP) four and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) four.
The breakdown for the government and its allies’ 216 seats in the lower house is: PTI 156, Pakistan Muslim League-Q five seats, independents two, Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) three, Balochistan Awami Party five, Muttahida Qaumi Movement seven and Awami Muslim League and Jamhoori Watan Party one seat each.
In Senate, the government side has 36 seats — PTI 14, independents seven, GDA one, BAP nine and MQM five.
Talking to Dawn, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan said that since 30 opposition legislators stayed away from the joint session, the treasury benches enjoyed a majority of 10 votes.
He claimed that after holding two meetings with the opposition, he had managed to obtain an assurance that it would support the government on all FATF-related bills, but they went back on their promise during the session.
On the other hand, former prime minister and PML-N stalwart Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the opposition had reservations over some controversial clauses of FATF-related bills as these proposed unbridled powers to investigation officers to pick anyone on a mere suspicion of money laundering irrespective of the amount in question.
He alleged that some opposition members were “pressured” into staying away from the joint sitting.
Raza Rabbani of the PPP, a former chairman of the Senate, said he did not smell a rat behind the absence of opposition members.
Some prominent opposition members missing from the joint session were: MNAs Riaz Pirzada, Rafizal Kakar and Ehsan Bajwa, Senator Salim Zia (illness), Senator Chaudhry Tanveer (for being out of the country), Ahmed Raza Manika (was in Hunza), Iftikhar Raza, Senator Dilawar Khan, Senator Raheela Magsi, Senator Kalsoom Parveen, Maulana Attaur Rahman, Senator Talha Mahmood, Asif Ali Zardari, Syed Khurshid Shah, senators Saleem Zia, Rubina Khalid and Sitara Ayaz.
Absentees in the treasury benches included MNAs Amir Liaquat Hussain, Monis Elahi, Asim Nazir, Abdul Majeed Khan and Ahmed Hussain Dehar.
Rahila Magsi, an opposition senator, said she did not attend the session as “I was busy in my constituency in Tando Allah Yar where a flood relief operation is under way”.
Riaz Pirzada said he could not attend the session because of illness. “I have spent a long time in politics and do not come under any pressure, but my health did not allow me to travel to Islamabad,” the MNA said.
A spokesman for the National Assembly Secretariat, in a reply to the opposition’s allegation against Asad Qaiser, said the speaker was the custodian of the National Assembly as well as the joint sitting.
He conducted the proceedings in accordance with the provisions of Article 70 (3) of the Constitution without any bias towards any political party, the spokesman said.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2020