ISLAMABAD: Amid up­roar by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), a controversial bill meant to delay local elections in the federal capital sailed through the Senate on Friday in a brief session, which was convened on a very short notice of less than an hour, just a day after the National Assembly had adopted it.

The main agenda item — ‘situation arising out of recent wave of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa along with overall law and order situation in the country’ — was not taken up at all, as the only business transacted by the upper house of parliament was the introduction and passage of the Islamabad capital territory local government amendment bill brought through supplementary agenda.

The bill, which was not even sent to relevant standing committee as per standard practice, was passed though the opposition repeatedly pointed out to Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani that the number of members in the house was too small to constitute a quorum.

With this legislation, the number of union councils in Islamabad has been increased to 125 from 101 and there will be direct election of mayor and deputy mayor.

At the outset, before the introduction of bill by Minister of State for Law Shahadat Awan, Leader of the Opposition Dr Shahzad Waseem raised an objection to the way the session was summoned and pointed out that even members were not properly informed. “What was the urgency to summon the session?” he asked the chair.

When the opposition leader called for putting an end to the practice of ambushing the parliament, the Mr Sanjrani said the house was summoned on a requisition of treasury benches, triggering a noisy protest by members belonging to the PTI. Chanting slogans against the coalition government, they assembled near the chairman’s podium and tore apart copies of the agenda, which also included the recent wave of terrorism and overall law and order in the country. Subsequently, the security staff of the senate secretariat gathered in the main passage, dividing the treasury and the opposition benches to prevent any clash.

Quorum

Raising slogans such as “Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) ran away” and “Don’t run away from elections”, the PTI senators raised the issue of quorum. However, they were asked by Mr Sanjrani that only from their seats, they can point out the issue of quorum.

The PTI members, except Faisal Javed, who later pointed out the quorum went out of the house for a few minutes, with the result that the count found only 22 of the 100 members present in the house and the chairman declared the house was not in order. Interestingly, quorum bells were rung for three minutes and the chair finally declared the house in order though he admitted 24 members were present whereas a quorum comprises at least 25 members.

While Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman pointed out that the session was requisitioned to discuss law and order and requested the chair to take up government bills, Mr Sanjrani asked the treasury benches to first move the Islamabad local government amendment bill, which was then passed by a majority vote of 24-12. However, when the chairman asked the opposition, after the passage of the bill, if they wanted to discuss the motion on law and order, no one responded amid the noisy protest.

At this, Senator Rehman said the opposition PTI was not interested in discussing rising terrorism in the country, adding that it must be looked into who was conspiring against Pakistan and who was steering it out of problems.

Mr Sanjrani prorogued the house sine die as the PTI lawmakers continued their protest and slogans chiding the PDM government for attempts to avoid local polls, which were only a week away, in Islamabad.

Reaction

Hours later, ex-senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar tweeted that the [PDM] is so afraid of the reaction of the masses that they hurriedly and without even a quorum amended the law to delay the local elections in Islamabad. “If this is the condition of the government that ends at Faizabad, what will be its fate in rest of the country,” he wrote.

“The amendment bill in Senate session despite strong protest by the opposition in a hurry [is] another attempt of the PDM government to avoid elections,” the PTI stated on its official Twitter handle. “Running away from elections is PDM’s defeat confession. The PDM might now have a majority in parliament, but PTI is [popular] in every street and neighbourhood,” it added.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2022

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