Govt upbeat about getting bills passed through joint sitting today

Published November 17, 2021
A photo of a National Assembly session. — APP/File
A photo of a National Assembly session. — APP/File

• Three PPP members may not attend much-anticipated session of parliament
• Group of six independents to play key role

ISLAMABAD: After assurances of support from its coalition partners with some behind-the-scenes management, the government appears confident of getting all its bills passed in the much-anticipated joint session of parliament on Wednesday (today) despite having a mere two-vote majority.

President Dr Arif Alvi on Tuesday formally convened the joint session of parliament at noon on Wednesday to take up more than two dozen crucial bills, including the electoral reforms bills, which have either lapsed or were rejected by the Senate.

Opposition members, who last week defeated the government twice in the National Assembly during voting on two motions for the admissibility of the bills, seem to be less enthusiastic and disappointed this time, apparently due to the developments that took place in the last five days and after the government’s decision to put off the joint sitting at the last minute which it had called for Nov 11.

Realising the fact that it could face difficulties in getting the bills passed from the joint sitting due to the reservations of its allies, the government intelligently engaged the opposition through National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser in order to get some time to manage its allies and convince them for the vote.

It may be recalled that the government had previously postponed the joint sitting after its allies, particularly the PML-Q and the MQM, expressed their reservations over the proposed electoral reforms bills regarding the use of electronic voting machine (EVM) and the introduction of i-voting for overseas Pakistanis in the next elections.

The party position in the parliament shows that the treasury has a majority of just two votes if the two houses are combined together. According to party position, the number of opposition members in the 440-member joint house comes to 219 against 221 treasury members.

The data shows that the ruling coalition enjoys a majority of 17 votes in the National Assembly whereas in the Senate it lags behind the opposition by 15 votes.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari rushed to Islamabad on Tuesday evening, whereas his father, MNA Asif Ali Zardari, is already in the capital.

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that at least three of its members would not be able to attend the joint session. Veteran party leader Syed Naveed Qamar and Senator Sikandar Mandhro would not attend the sitting due to illness whereas another veteran PPP MNA Nawab Yousuf Talpur is in London.

Similarly, PML-N’s Shaista Pervez Malik is also expected to miss the session, as she is observing iddat due to the death of her husband, Pervaiz Malik, who was also a party MNA.

A group of six independents, who had opted to sit on the opposition benches at the time of the nomination of PPP’s Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani as the opposition leader in the Senate, are also expected to vote for the treasury. A senior PPP leader told Dawn the members of the group had not attended the recent meetings of the opposition parties.

If these senators, led by Dilawar Khan, did not side with the opposition, it would provide another opportunity to the PML-N and the JUI-F to criticise the PPP, as the party had quit the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance due to the differences on the nomination of Mr Gilani with the support of the six independent senators, most of them had been sitting on the treasury benches prior to the Senate elections in March.

Heads of the component parties of the opposition PDM in a meeting on Monday had expressed concern over reports that the state institutions were “forcing” the government’s allies to vote for the government-proposed controversial bills.

“The PDM does not approve of this kind of interference from the state institutions and considers such an act violation of the Constitution,” said the statement issued after the PDM meeting.

The PDM leaders warned the state institutions to remain within their constitutional limits and “don’t test the patience of the people”.

The PDM has already hinted that it might challenge the controversial bills passed by the joint sitting before the Supreme Court and it has already constituted a two-member team for this purpose.

According to an official announcement made by the PDM after the meeting, the leaders of the opposition alliance were considering challenging the bills regarding the use of EVMs in the elections, slashing the powers of the State Bank of Pakistan and the bills seeking amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2021

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