ISLAMABAD: Following the directive of Speaker Asad Qaiser, the government is set to lay the controversial Senate open vote ordinance before the National Assembly on Monday (today) when the lower house will go into session after a two-day recess.
The agenda issued for Monday’s sitting by the National Assembly Secretariat shows that the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2021, which the government had tabled in the assembly earlier this month for the same purpose, but could not get it passed due to strong resistance by the opposition parties, is also part of the agenda.
Besides the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, seeking an “open and identifiable ballot” for the Senate polls, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan will also lay the Special Technology Zones Authority Ordinance, 2020 (Ordinance No XIII of 2020) before the National Assembly as required by clause 2 of Article 89 of the Constitution, according to the 27-point agenda.
The speaker had issued the directives to the government to lay the ordinances before the house on Monday after the opposition lodged a strong protest on the opening day of its requisitioned session on Friday. The issue was forcefully raised by senior vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who alleged that the government had violated the Constitution and the assembly rules by not bringing the ordinance before the house on the first day of the sitting (after promulgation of the ordinance).
Constitution amendment for the same purpose is also part of the agenda
During the Senate session on Saturday, the opposition parties rejected the ordinance seeking open voting for the upper house, with PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani going to the extent of demanding impeachment of President Dr Arif Alvi for promulgating the ordinance to “advance the ruling party’s agenda”.
Taking part in the discussion on the presidential ordinance, the one-point agenda of the requisitioned session, Mr Rabbani accused the president of violating the Constitution and said the president knew a constitution amendment bill was already in the National Assembly even then he sent a reference to the Supreme Court to seek its opinion on open voting for Senate elections. The president also knew he had prorogued the two houses of parliament and next day promulgated an ordinance on the Senate polls despite knowing that the reference was pending before the apex court.
The former chairman of the Senate said under Article 89 of the Constitution, the ordinance should have been laid in either of the two houses in its first sitting of the session (after promulgation of the ordinance). While the National Assembly met on Friday and the Senate on Saturday, the ordinance was laid neither in the assembly nor in the upper house.
Two days after abandoning its efforts to get the constitution amendment bill passed through the National Assembly, the government on Feb 6 had promulgated the ordinance amending the Elections Act 2017 for the use of “open and identifiable ballot” in the coming and future Senate elections.
Interestingly, the text of the ordinance says that the ordinance has “come into force at once”, but an amendment to Section 122 of the Elections Act 2017 has made it conditional on the final decision of the Supreme Court on the presidential reference.
The government had tabled the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill in the National Assembly on Feb 3 without trying to take the opposition on board. The opposition parties had not only rejected the move, but lodged a strong noisy protest in the assembly when the speaker put the bill before the house for a general discussion.
On Feb 4, the National Assembly witnessed a scuffle between the treasury and opposition members when Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri ran the house one-sidedly and gave floor to three federal ministers one after the other, providing them full opportunity to speak on the bill and bash the opposition parties.
The opposition alleges that the government wants to introduce open voting for Senate polls because it has no control and trust on its lawmakers and fears that they may not vote for the candidates backed by the ruling alliance.
The opposition parties have requisitioned the National Assembly session to discuss “increasing inflation, especially food inflation, price hike in petroleum products, gas and electricity”.
A calling attention notice moved by the PML-N members “regarding increase in cost of electricity under the head of fuel price adjustment” is also on the agenda to be taken up on Monday.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2021