• Speaker to start verification of PTI MNAs’ resignations
• Opposition leader yet to be nominated
• All NA bodies remain incomplete

ISLAMABAD: The first regular session of the National Assembly after the coalition government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took office last month is set to commence tomorrow (Monday), while Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf faces the challenge of keeping parliament functional after the mass resignations of 123 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers.

According to an official announcement by the NA Secretariat, President Dr Arif Alvi has summoned the session of the Lower House of parliament at 4pm on Monday under Article 54(1) of the Constitution. The secretariat will issue the agenda for the sitting on Sunday (today).

Sources told Dawn that the speaker was likely to start the process of verification of the resignations submitted by PTI MNAs by calling them in his chamber individually or in the form of groups during the current session. Around two dozen MNAs belonging to the former ruling party had already reportedly approached him seeking a meeting to clarify their stance.

Sources in the NA Secretariat confirmed that a majority of the resignations submitted by the PTI MNAs were not handwritten and had a similar text printed on the party’s letterhead. They said the secretariat staff also had doubts over the signatures of some members as they did not match those on the assembly’s roll.

The decision to resign en masse from the assembly had been taken at the PTI’s parliamentary party meeting, presided over by chairman Imran Khan, and announced by vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the floor of the assembly just minutes before the PM’s election on April 11.

Former deputy speaker Qasim Suri, who was then functioning as the acting speaker, had immediately accepted the resignations and directed the secretariat to issue a notification.

On April 14, the PTI had through social media released the secretariat’s notification declaring that 123 party MNAs “resigned from their seats by writing under their hand” to the speaker. The notification, signed by NA Secretary Tahir Hussain, had declared that after submission of the resignations their seats had become vacant in terms of Article 64(1) of the Constitution, with effect from April 11.

Opposition leader’s nomination

Another challenge before Mr Ashraf is the appointment of an opposition leader in the House. Since the PTI leadership was adamant it would not return to the assembly, he had no choice but to appoint an opposition leader from amongst nearly two dozen PTI dissidents. According to the sources, Noor Alam Khan and Raja Riaz were the main contenders for the slot and both of them had already submitted formal requests to the speaker with the signatures of their colleagues.

Following the resignations of PTI members and the formation of a new cabinet by PM Sharif, parliament has almost become dysfunctional due to incomplete committees. According to an analysis of the composition of all the panels of both houses of parliament, all the committees of the National Assembly are now incomplete with more than 60 per cent of them without a head, either because of the resignations of the PTI lawmakers or the inclusion of their chairmen in the federal cabinet.

The important committees, which have become headless, include the most powerful Public Accounts Committee as well as the parliamentary committees on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Kashmir. Moreover, the standing committees on finance and revenue of the two houses of parliament have also become headless at a time when the government has only a month to present the federal budget for the financial year 2022-23.

The committees of the two houses are known as extensions of parliament as all the legislation and important issues that land in the houses are referred to the committees concerned for a thorough debate involving all stakeholders. Under the rules, the committees are required to submit their reports to either House within 60 days after which members of both houses vote on the bills.

The standing committees are constituted on the basis of a party’s position in either House, and since the PTI was the ruling party, it had the largest representation in all the committees of the National Assembly. The other NA committees that were left without chairmen after the PTI members’ resignations were aviation, interior, climate change, defence, information and broadcasting, economic affairs, energy, foreign affairs, housing and works, information technology and telecommunication, planning and states and frontier regions.

On April 30, the speaker had written letters to parliamentary leaders of all the parties, including PTI chairman Imran Khan, asking them to forward their nominations for the formation of a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms. Given the prevailing political situation, it is unlikely that the PTI will send any nominations.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2022

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