ISLAMABAD: In an apparent move to prolong the voting on a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Sunday summoned the session of the lower house of parliament on March 25, violating the Constitution under which he is bound to convene a session within 14 days after the submission of a requisition.

Meanwhile, the government also took a significant decision under which it will file a reference in the Supreme Court on Monday (today), seeking “an opinion” of the apex court on two main points — whether the disqualification of a legislator is for life time and whether the dissident MNAs of any party can cast vote on a no-confidence resolution.

The speaker, who under the Constitution was bound to call the NA session by March 21 [within 14 days after the opposition’s requisition], gave an excuse that since the three-day conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) would be held in the NA hall, there was no other place in the federal capital to convene the NA session.

This is despite the fact that the capital offers alternative locations where such an event can be held such as the spacious Jinnah Convention Centre, Prime Minister Secretariat, Pak-China Centre, two five-star hotels, etc.

Government to file reference in SC today to end politics of ‘sale and purchase’

The opposition lashed out at the speaker for his decision to hold the NA session on March 25, saying he had violated the Constitution to prolong the voting on no-trust motion.

Sources in the government told Dawn that the decisions to hold the NA session on March 25 and filing of the reference in the Supreme Court were taken at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Khan at his Banigala residence on Sunday.

Speaker Asad Qaiser issued an order saying the [opposition’s] requisition was received on March 8 for summoning the National Assembly. Whereas, on Jan 21, 2022, a motion had been adopted by the NA to allow the exclusive use of NA chamber for the 48th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers scheduled for March 22, 23 or any other date.

He said the renovation work on the NA chamber and its lobbies had commenced on the requirement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the end of February 2022, which was under taken by the Capital Development Authority.

The speaker said that after the receipt of [the opposition’s] requisition, the NA Secretariat requested the Senate Secretariat to provide chamber of the Senate for holding the NA session, but the latter pointed out that the Senate chamber was also not available for being under renovation.

“Thereafter, the CDA chairman and deputy commissioner, Islamabad, were also approached to arrange and provide a suitable building for holding the session of the National Assembly outside the parliament building, at Islamabad. However, they have informed in writing that no suitable place is available at present in Islamabad for holding the NA session,” Mr Qaisar added.

“In view of the aforementioned facts and circumstances, it is evident that no suitable place would be available for holding the session of the NA till March 24. Having no adequate option available whatsoever, for holding of the NA session before March 24, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred upon me under clause (3) of Article 54 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, read with Article 254 of the Constitution, I hereby summon the session of the National Assembly on the first available date i.e. Friday, March 25 at 11.00am at the Parliament House, Islamabad,” the order said.

Meanwhile, Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar said in a tweet that the government would file a reference in the Supreme Court that would end the politics of “sell and purchase” and diminish the influence of “easy money” and “influence in politics”.

When contacted, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the decision to file the reference was taken by the prime minister in a meeting on Sunday. “The basic reasons of filing the reference are — to know whether the disqualification of any legislators is for lifetime and that can PTI dissidents cast vote on the no-trust motion,” he added.

A source said the NA speaker could call the session on March 21 to meet the constitutional requirement [within 14 days after the requisition] and adjourn the session for three days for the OIC conference and it could resume on March 24.

According to Article 63 of the Constitution, the prime minister is given three days after the tabling of a no-trust motion, for preparation. However, the government is apparently trying to linger on the voting on the motion — first by an excuse of “lack of suitable place for the session till March 25” and then filing of the reference in the Supreme Court.

The information minister said the government was only seeking an opinion of the apex court and it could be given by the court even on the first day of filing of the reference or the court could take more time it deemed appropriate.

Asked why the NA session was not called on March 21, he said the NA hall was not available for the session due to the OIC summit.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2022

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