• Dar says outgoing speaker to convene the maiden session if president fails; expects it by tomorrow
• PPP, PML-N leaders urge head of state not to abuse powers

ISLAMABAD: With only three days left in the constitution-mandated deadline to summon the session of the National Assembly, President Arif Alvi has come under severe criticism from the political parties, particularly the PPP and the PML-N, for resorting to delaying tactics instead of convening the session of the lower house of parliament.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that a summary requisitioning the session of the assembly was sent to the president by the parliamentary affairs division four days ago, but there has been no official res­ponse from President Alvi.

A National Assembly Secretariat official said the president was bound to summon the session within 21 days and if he failed to do so, then the NA secretariat could bypass him and summon the session under Article 91(2) of the Constitution. The official said the secretariat had already made necessary arrangements for the new assembly’s session.

Some reports claimed that the president may not call the session till the notification of the women lawmakers of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) on reserved seats. However, sources in the presidency were clueless about the decision on the summary.

At present, the Election Commission of Pakistan has yet to issue a notification on 20 seats reserved for women and three seats reserved for non-Muslim lawmakers. The PTI-backed independents who joined the SIC — which did not have any seats in NA — have 92 seats in the lower house. It may be noted a member of the SIC won one seat as an independent candidate.

Speaking about the delay in the notification on reserved seats, the official said the process required some time and the session of the National Assembly could not be delayed for this reason. The SIC has to abide by the constitutional process, such as submission of a list of women candidates for reserved seats. “If objections are raised on these lists then the political party will have to submit its responses before the ECP allocates these seats,” the official added.

He said such a situation had occurred many times in the past when the NA was conveyed even without by-election on the seats vacated by the returned candidates who were contesting from more than one seat.

“In 1988 general elections were held on Nov 10 and Benazir Bhutto became the prime minister on Dec 22. On that occasion, 16 seats became vacant…but the session was still summoned,” he said. Under the Pakistan Democratic Movement government, the National Assembly was functional for 16 months with 150 members as the PTI remained outside of the NA.

Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi remained unavailable for comments.

Alvi attracts flak

PML-N and PPP leaders criticised the president for not summoning the session. PPP leader Shazia Marri said the president should not abuse his constitutional powers.

“President Alvi should not be loyal to an individual but the Constitution,” she said, adding if the president did not summon the session within the prescribed period his name then will be remembered among the violators of the Constitution.

Speaking to reporters in Lahore, PML-N Senator Ishaq Dar said that summoning the National Assembly session by Feb 29 was mandatory under the Constitution.

“A session of the elected assembly has to be summoned within 21 days from the polling day as per the Constitution. As polling had been held on Feb 8, it is mandatory to convene the new house of the National Assembly by Feb 29,” he said while talking to the media on the Punjab Assembly premises in Lahore.

The former finance minister said it is expected that the maiden National Assembly session would be summoned for Feb 27 as the parliamentary affairs minister had sent a summary for the purpose on Feb 21, but President Arif Alvi had not signed the document.

He said if President Alvi did not call the session by Feb 29, the outgoing speaker, Pervaiz Ashraf, would do so to comply with the constitutional requirement.

Answering a question about what would be the situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the governor was also not summoning the provincial assembly session, the PML-N leader said the case was also identical to the National Assembly.

“As general election has been held on Feb 8 simultaneously across the country, sessions of all the newly-elected assemblies must be convened by Feb 29 whether the President or Governor, whatever the case may be, summons a session or not.”

PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui said the president was serving on borrowed time as his tenure had already expired. He added Dr Alvi should not leave the presidency with another blot to his credit that he had not met the constitutional obligation of summoning the NA session within the prescribed timeline.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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