Quorum syndrome continues to haunt National Assembly

Published September 21, 2021
PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal speaks during the National Assembly session on Monday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter
PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal speaks during the National Assembly session on Monday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter

ISLAMABAD: The Natio­nal Assembly on Monday again failed to take up any agenda item, except the poorly-attended Question Hour, due to lack of quorum pointed out by an opposition member as soon as Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan took the floor to present two ordinances.

Speaker Asad Qaiser adjourned the sitting till Tuesday evening (today) even without ordering a vote-count as the quorum, for which the presence of at least 86 members (one-fourth of the 342-member house) is required, was clearly lacking.

The quorum was pointed out by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA from Vehari Sajid Mehdi when the speaker gave floor to Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan to lay the Federal Government Properties’ Management Authority Ordinance, 2021, and the Elections (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2021.

It was the second sitting of the fourth parliamentary year and the first sitting which was held on September 17 had also ended without doing any regular business due to lack of quorum.

Journalists stage walkout from proceedings over speaker’s act of locking gallery

The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat), an independent think-tank working for legislative strengthening, in its report on the performance of the lower house of the parliament during the third parliamentary year had stated that the National Assembly “failed to see any improvement in the attendance of members, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, as 24 out of the 79 total sittings were adjourned due to lack of quorum.”

The resolution asking the house to refer the controversial Elections (Amendment) Bill about electronic voting machines (EVMs) to the joint sitting of parliament which was present on the Friday’s agenda was surprisingly missing from the agenda that was issued by the NA Secretariat for the Monday’s sitting.

Sources claimed that the government had intentionally dropped the resolution from the agenda after some opposition members’ meeting with the speaker who wanted to form a committee to discuss the electoral reforms.

During the Question Hour, the parliamentary reporters staged a walkout from the press gallery to register their protest against the speaker’s act of locking the gallery during President Dr Arif Alvi’s address to the joint session of the parliament on September 13.

PPP’s Shazia Marri drew the attention of the house towards the journalists’ walkout and asked the speaker to clarify his position over the issue. She said the speaker had made a claim that he had taken the decision to close the press gallery in consultations with representatives of journalists, whereas this claim had been rejected by the Parliamentary Repor­ters’ Association (PRA) through a press release.

The PPP MNA said that it was for the first time in the country’s history that the press gallery was locked and it never happened even during military rules.

The speaker, while directing chief whip of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Amir Dogar to talk to the protesting journalists once again, said he had already given his stance and that it was not a unanimous decision. He also directed Mr Dogar to arrange his meeting with PRA representatives.

PTI MNA Amjid Ali Khan and Saira Bano of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) also accompanied Mr Dogar who held negotiations with journalists in which both sides agreed to have a meeting on Tuesday.

Mr Qaiser had ordered locking of the press gallery during the president’s address to the joint session of parliament which forced journalists to stage a protest sit-in outside his office as well as at the main entrance of the Parliament House.

The action of the speaker had come in the wake of the call given by the PRA to stage a walkout from the press gallery during the president’s address and join their colleagues who had been protesting outside the Parlia­ment House on the call of the Pakistan Fed­eral Union of Journalists (PFUJ) against the government’s plan to set up the controversial Pakistan Media Development Authority.

Next day, the speaker claimed that he had ordered the closure of the press gallery after getting reports about possible clash between the two journalists’ groups and that he had taken the step in consultation with the PRA. The speaker also said that he met a PRA delegation on the issue.

Hours after the speaker’s statement, the PRA categorically refuted the speaker’s claim and challenged him to name the journalists who met him as PRA representatives.

“There is no truth in the reports that a PRA delegation met the speaker on September 14,” said a PRA statement which also denied the speaker’s claim that the association was on board when he took the decision to close down the press gallery.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2021

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