Quorum in National Assembly becomes chronic problem

Published September 23, 2021
A photo from the National Assembly session on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter
A photo from the National Assembly session on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter

ISLAMABAD: The quorum issue took a chronic form as the Wednesday’s sitting of the National Assembly was adjourned for a fourth time in as many days as the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) again failed to maintain the presence of the required number of its 86 legislators in the 342-member house after a protest walkout by the opposition.

Speaker Asad Qaiser adjourned the session till Friday morning after Murtaza Javed Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pointed out lack of quorum during the Question Hour when he was not allowed to speak in response to the reply given by Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar in which he had accused the previous PML-N government of announcing the gas supply schemes as a political stunt to win the elections.

As soon as Mr Abbasi pointed out the quorum, the other opposition members as usual staged a walkout, knowing that the government would not be able to complete the quorum which was clearly lacking as announced by the speaker after a headcount.

Opposition blocks motion for setting up poll reforms committee

Earlier, at the outset of the sitting, the opposition blocked the government’s move to table a motion authorising the speaker to constitute a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, terming it “controversial” and not in line with the agreement reached between the opposition and treasury members during a meeting with the speaker on Tuesday.

Shazia Marri of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) intercepted Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan when he started reading out the motion and asked the speaker to allow her to see its text before its presentation to the house for approval.

Mr Awan sent the copy of the motion to her to have a look and in the meantime the speaker started Question Hour allowing the government and the opposition to reach a consensus on the draft, which could not happen due to early adjournment of the sitting.

Later, talking to Dawn, PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar said they had objected to the motion because it was not in line with the agreement reached with the government and reported by the press quoting the official handout of the Natio­nal Assembly Secretariat on Tuesday.

Mr Qamar said it was agreed that the committee would be formed to discuss the electoral reforms and not the controversial election amendment bill regarding the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) as mentioned in the motion which Mr Babar was about to present.

“This committee was to be formed to discuss the proposals for electoral reforms from both the sides and develop a consensus. This was not a committee for approving the EVM bill,” he declared.

Moreover, the PPP lawmaker said that it was agreed that the committee would have representation of all the political parties present in parliament irrespective of their party position, but the motion stated that the speaker would constitute a committee comprising members of the partiers with “proportionate representation”. He wondered why the government wanted to have more members in the committee when it was not meant for any vote. He said they could not become a part of the government’s move to bulldoze the EVM legislation.

Mr Qamar said the text of the motion had once again exposed the mindset of the government which had never made any effort in its three-year rule to dev­e­lop a consensus on any national issue.

When contacted, Shazia Marri said the government’s motion was “faulty” and “in contradiction” to the understanding reached during the meeting with the speaker. She said that after the session was over, she met the speaker and told him in categorical terms that the motion in the present form was “not acceptable”. She said that she had suggested a number of changes in the motion which were not acceptable to Mr Awan, who had also joined them in the meeting.

She said it seemed that the person who had drafted the motion did not want to see development of a consensus on the issue. In an apparent reference to Mr Awan, who had also served as the parliamentary affairs minister during the previous PPP government, she said such things happened when non-elected people would draft the motion.

“The draft was so much faulty and the intent to build consensus was totally missing from it,” Ms Marri said.

It was amid a raging controversy over the government’s plan to rush through two contentious election-related bills providing for introduction of EVMs and right to vote for overseas Pakistanis that the two sides had agreed to form a parliamentary committee to discuss the electoral reforms.

Earlier, during the Question Hour, the opposition members protested over the government’s failure to seek replies from the Supreme Court to their questions regarding the names of the cities in which model courts are working and their number and the reconciliation of the dam fund collected through different authorised agencies such as cellular phone companies, Pakistan Railways, banks and also by any other means. The questions had been asked by members Tahira Aurangzeb and Chaudhry Faqir Ahmed some two years back.

In a written reply to a question about the model courts, Law Minister Farogh Naseem told the house that “the information is not available in the ministry as setting up of the model courts is not the initiative of the federal government” and these courts were administered by the Supreme Court.

Taking the floor, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said that dozens of letters had been sent to the registrar of the apex court to seek replies to the questions, but so far they had not received the answers.

The minister said that he had once again asked the federal law secretary to approach the SC registrar to seek the replies as it was the right of the people to get information.

Responding to a question, the law minister informed the house that a total of 444 government employees had so far opted for a plea bargain with NAB.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2021

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