• Senators oppose participation of caretaker CMs in CCI meeting on census • Another 14 bills passed, draft Pemra amendment sent to committee • Minister denies ‘bulldozing’ legislation as opposition walks out

ISLAMABAD: As a legislation-spree continued in parliament, the controversy over a possible delay in elections and the participation of two caretaker chief ministers in the all-important Council of Common Interests (CCI) meeting echoed in the Senate on Friday, with a key government ally opposing any deferment of the polls.

Speaking on a point of public concern, PPP’s Mian Raza Rabbani opposed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s idea of holding the polls on the basis of fresh delimitations — which, if followed, could delay the electoral exercise for months.

He made it clear that caretaker CMs, who have only a limited role, cannot take decisions on the “controversial” population count exercise, adding that the idea of delaying polls under the pretext of conducting them on the basis of latest census and fresh delimitations would not be supported.

Referring to Section 230 of the Elections Act, he said the law explicitly barred caretakers from taking decisions on the census while sitting on the CCI. The law says that any caretaker government “shall not take any decision or make a policy that may affect or preempt the exercise of the authority by the future elected government”.

Senators oppose participation of caretaker CMs in CCI meeting on census • Another 14 bills passed, draft Pemra amendment sent to committee • Minister denies ‘bulldozing’ legislation as opposition walks out

“The scheme of the Constitution is that the caretaker set-up comes in once the electoral process has started,” he said, adding that its only work is to ensure free and fair electi­ons. “The census is alrea­dy disputed and it would become further disputed if caretakers came to [be involved in] some decisions.”

He said Sindh had already expressed its reservations over the census and the chief minister has written a letter to the federal government as well.

Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman also said the census issue was controversial and linking it to the polls would open up a Pandora’s Box.

“We don’t want elections to be delayed,” said Ms Rehman, who also belongs to PPP, adding that polls should be held in time.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, in his response, said all these matters would come up for discussion at the CCI meeting and Sindh CM would also be in attendance.

He pointed out that a one-time constitutional amendment was made in Article 51 of Constitution before the 2018 elections, which said that polls would be held on the basis of provisional results of the 2017 census. Before this amendment, he added, all parliamentary parties had reached an agreement that next elections would be held on the basis of digital census.

‘Blind legislation’

Earlier, Senator Rabbani advised the government to avoid “blind legislation” and demanded the bills must be referred to the standing committees concerned.

However, Mr Tarar disputed the impression that the bills were being bulldozed through the house and pointed out that these bills had been pending before NA committees for four months. They have now been laid before the house as the government’s term is going to expire, he said.

However, opposition members walked out of the house, saying the government was bulldozing the legislation without holding a debate on the bills already passed by the NA.

Before leaving the house, PTI’s Mohsin Aziz mocked by saying the government should get all the bills passed in one-go rather than tabling them one by one.

Soon after the walkout, PTI Senator Dost Mohammad Khan pointed out quorum and bells were rung for five minutes as the house lacked quorum. However, the chair had to adjourn the house for 10 minutes as only 23 members, less than the required quorum, were present in the hall. But soon it resumed business following completion of quorum.

Earlier, the chair referred the ‘controversial’ Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill to the standing committee concerned after it was fiercely opposed by the opposition benches and at least one member from the treasury.

The house earlier passed as many as 14 bills, with members raising questions over the hasty legislation at the fag end of the government’s term.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2023

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