ISLAMABAD: Members of the joint opposition on Thursday twice met National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and asked him to give them in writing the terms of engagements with them that should include a categorical statement that it was the government which was approaching them for a dialogue and an assurance that the recently-promulgated controversial ordinances would also be discussed in the parliamentary committee.
The decision that the opposition would seek everything in writing from the speaker was taken by members of the recently-formed steering committee of the joint opposition in a meeting.
“We are going to communicate to the speaker that he should give us in writing because we do not want to hear that we (the opposition) have been pressing for a dialogue,” said parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Senate Sherry Rehman while briefly talking to reporters after attending the meeting of the opposition’s steering committee and before leaving for the speaker’s chamber for the meeting.
Speaking on this occasion, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said the speaker had talked to him and PPP leader Syed Naveed Qamar over telephone on Wednesday night and told them that he wanted to see both the government and the opposition to sit together and discuss some 20 bills and ordinances which the government wanted to legislate through a joint sitting of parliament.
Mr Sadiq said the opposition’s steering committee had decided that they would respond to the speaker’s invitation only after receiving it in writing and after the approval of their leadership.
The opposition parties had formed the steering committee on Wednesday to devise a joint strategy inside the parliament after the government put off the Thursday’s joint session of parliament within 24 hours of its summoning after struggling to ensure the presence of required number of members and due to reservations shown by its allies over the proposed electoral reforms bills regarding the use of electronic voting machine (EVM) and introduction of I-voting for overseas Pakistanis.
The formation of the committee was announced by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in the presence of PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif at a dinner reception hosted by the former for members of the joint opposition.
The announcement for the postponement of the joint session had come from Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry through a tweet hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan presided over a meeting of parliamentarians belonging to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and allied parties, which was attended by over 150 members.
The information minister had claimed that the joint session had been put off because the government wanted to once again engage the opposition on electoral reforms which was an issue linked to the country’s future. He also said that Mr Qaiser had been asked to contact the opposition again so that they could move the poll reforms bills with consensus. He had declared that the government would not take back steps on poll reforms, even if they did not reach a consensus on it.
The minister later stated that the joint sitting was called off at the request of coalition partners who had urged the prime minister to give them a chance so that they could engage the opposition to seek its support for the legislations.
However, another senior member of the cabinet confirmed that PML-Q, which is a coalition partner with the PTI at Centre and in Punjab, had sought some time for in-house consultation on the issue of EVM, saying they had certain reservations over the move.
Ms Rehman said the steering committee would consider further action after receiving in writing from the speaker that all the bills that had been referred to the joint session and the ordinances promulgated would be discussed in the parliamentary committee.
The PPP senator said the opposition parties were the real political organisations and they did not want to close the doors of the committees and the parliament.
Rejecting an impression being given by the government that the opposition was behind the cancellation of the joint session, she said there was no question of them having approached the government or the speaker to cancel or reverse the joint session.
“It was called by them and also cancelled (by them) because they were politically isolated by their allies. We have nothing to do with it,” she said.
Ms Rehman said that in fact the joint session had been cancelled because the government did not have the numbers anymore to bulldoze their bills as their own people and allies had stepped back.
“They are afraid of being exposed and of facing defeats in the parliament. We have our numbers in the parliament and the support of the people of Pakistan,” she said.
PPP’s information secretary and MNA Shazia Marri in a statement said the conspiracy of the PTI-led government to make parliament inactive and ineffective had been foiled and Prime Minister Imran Khan had been running away from the parliament for three years. She said time had come to oust the incompetent prime minister.
Ms Marri said they would oust “the selected and imposed prime minister” through the parliament. She said Imran Khan had lost the confidence and majority in the National Assembly.
Earlier, speaking at a news conference, Adviser to Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan said the government was committed to ensuring legislation for national interest and welfare of the people in joint session of parliament which had been postponed for a few days.
The adviser, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan, said the government had reforms agenda for the welfare of people and it was ready to engage the opposition for negotiations on legislative proposals to be tabled in joint session of parliament. He said the government would make all possible efforts to develop consensus with the opposition on pro-public agenda and voting in the parliament would decide in case of any difference on it.
The adviser said the joint session had been postponed for time being and the opposition would be engaged in the national interests. He said a joint parliamentary committee had already been constituted to consider the electoral reforms bills, including the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021.
He elaborated the purpose of the bills and said the government only wanted to conduct fair and transparent elections in the country. He said the government was serious about electoral reforms as it was keen to provide opportunity to overseas Pakistanis to participate in the polls.
The adviser said that multiple bills had been referred to the joint session of parliament. These legislative proposals are of national importance and for protection of women, children rights, peasants and public welfare, he added.
He alleged that the opposition wanted to maintain the status quo and not supporting the PTI government to fulfill the tasks related to public welfare.
“Our agenda is non-political and for the people of Pakistan,” he said, adding the PTI government was ready to sit with the opposition for pro-public legislation.
Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2021