Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan on Monday emphasised that overseas Pakistanis had already been given the right to vote in a Supreme Court decision in 2018 and the ruling PTI government would fulfil Prime Minister Imran Khan's promise to "include them in power in Pakistan".
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad alongside Minister of State for Information Farrukh Habib, Awan rejected Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif's proposed allocation of reserved seats in the two houses of the bicameral parliament for the overseas Pakistanis.
Shehbaz had suggested that five to seven seats in the National Assembly and two seats in the Senate be allocated to overseas Pakistanis. He had also said that overseas Pakistanis should come to the country to cast their votes during elections.
In his press conference today, Awan termed Shehbaz's proposal as a "fraud and flawed strategy". He stressed that the government believed in the supremacy of the parliament and wanted to do all legislation through the House.
The speaker of the National Assembly was requested by both the government and the opposition to form a committee to discuss the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2020 which was passed by the lower house of parliament earlier this month, he said, adding that he would welcome recommendations by people anywhere in Pakistan and especially the opposition.
"Doors are open for negotiations," he stressed.
The adviser, however, termed Shehbaz's proposed formula as a "fraud plan", saying that it violated the Supreme Court's decisions.
He said that whenever the government introduced legislation in parliament, the opposition did not only reject it but ridiculed it as well which meant they did not believe in the parliament and its supremacy. The opposition, instead, looked for "alternate routes", he said.
"Overseas Pakistanis were promised by Imran Khan that [PTI] would include them in power in Pakistan but the mode cannot be what Shehbaz Sharif says."
Awan cited the Supreme Court's 2018 judgement in the Farhat Javed Siddiqui case in which the apex court had clarified certain things regarding the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis. The leader of the opposition's recommendation is against the Supreme Court's decision and in contempt of it, he added.
"The Supreme Court said the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis already existed as per law. They do not need to be given the right. Secondly, it is duly recognised, [the right] cannot be rejected. Shehbaz Sharif's plan is that some favoured people be brought to parliament and 10 million Pakistanis be deprived of their right. This cannot happen," he insisted.
Awan said the Supreme Court's decision needed to be implemented under any condition but Shehbaz and his party had "rejected" it.
The adviser said Article 17, Article 19 and Article 106(2) all gave overseas Pakistanis the right to vote and it was their fundamental right which "cannot be ended because of Shehbaz Sharif's recommendation".
"Do not mess with the Constitution. Shehbaz Sharif, do not make a joke of the Constitution. Do not insult the Constitution. Forget this buying and selling," he said, adding: "If the whole parliament wants together to deprive them (overseas Pakistanis) of their rights, Article 8 of the Constitution prohibits it."
Awan said whatever discussion needed to be done on electoral reforms should take place in the parliament and advised the opposition not to look for "alternate roads".
The adviser shared that parliamentary leaders would be briefed by agencies regarding the environment being created on Pakistan's border because of the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan.
He said that while opposition parties had initially criticised the budget "without reading it", when the Budget 2021-2022 was presented on the floor of the National Assembly, no objections were raised. Instead, he said, opposition parties raised cut motions on all institutions that deal with accountability, financial wrongdoing, corruption and kickbacks.
The purpose of these cut motions was to reduce the funds of these institutions so they would "die", Awan said. However, grants for these institutions had been raised during the tenure of the PTI government, he added.
"Previously, these institutions used to give up [but] now they are doing what no one did in the 73-year history of Pakistan," he claimed.
Nawaz Sharif at 'dead-end'
The adviser said that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had reached a "dead-end" after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) recently dismissed his appeal against convictions in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references.
"His excuse (to go abroad) for treatment and the bail order has ended. The final judgement has come — Nawaz Sharif has to surrender to the law, there is no other way."
The adviser noted that Nawaz could not approach the Supreme Court until his surrender.
"The [IHC] has said that when he comes back, he can file an application for resurrection of petition but the condition is that it will be decided according to the law and the law has already been laid down in Gen Musharraf's case by Supreme Court. An absconder does not have constitutional right," Awan said.
Speaking after Awan, Habib said that the PML-N "gave lectures" on the supremacy of the Constitution and the law and if they did not accept the IHC's decision, the nation would see the contradiction.
"This open contradiction has always been present," he said, adding that Nawaz had been provided with a "free and fair trial" in the Avenfield and Al-Azizia references but the Sharif family had "no record of the palaces that Nawaz Sharif is resting in now".
"On the one hand, the uncle (Shehbaz) is saying I am a guarantor, he (Nawaz) is going for treatment. On the other hand, the niece (Maryam) is asking for an NRO to avoid jail. I don't believe Shehbaz Sharif has any moral standing to continue in National Assembly as opposition leader," the minister said.
By staying as an absconder in London, Nawaz could become Altaf Hussain 2 but not Nelson Mandela, he quipped.
"Now it is up to you (Nawaz) whether you want to become Altaf Hussain 2 or want to come back to Pakistan and accept the rule of law and return looted money," he added.