• Lawmakers to take oath today; election for speaker, deputy speaker on Friday
• ECP likely to rule on women, minority seats for PTI-SIC alliance before session begins
• Nawaz’s plea against Mansehra poll decision turned down; presiding officers notified for election of new head of state

ISLAMABAD: An as-yet ‘incomplete’ National Assembly — short of reserved seats claimed by the PTI-Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) alliance — will hold its inaugural sitting today (Thurs­day) after President Arif Alvi relented from his earlier stance and assented to a summary seeking the summoning of the maiden sitting of the lower house.

Earlier, the NA Secretariat had summoned a session following the refusal of the president. A formal notification to this effect was issued on Wednesday, which stated that the session would start at 10am. The notification said: “Whereas, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs…has been pleased to approve that arrangements for first sitting of the National Assembly may be made in terms of clause (2) of Article 91…”

But in a late-night development, President Arif Alvi also approved a summary calling for a session on Thursday morning.

A statement issued by the Presidency, took issue with the tone of the summary sent to President Alvi by the caretaker prime minister, adding that he was calling the session as he expected that the issue of reserved seats would be settled by the 21st day after the polls, as envisaged in the law.

Also on Wednesday night, the NA Secretariat cancelled all invitation cards issued to ‘VIPs’ over security concerns. Sources said that the passes had been cancelled against the backdrop of the pandemonium witnessed during the first sitting of the KP Assembly.

A source in the NA Secretariat told Dawn that SIC leaders and workers, seeking invitation cards for their supporters, had exchanged heated words with NA officials.

The contention that the lower house is ‘incomplete’ comes primarily from the PTI, which has been up in arms over the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) inaction regarding the allocation of over 23 reserved seats for women and minorities to its bloc.

Nearly all PTI members of assemblies, except Barrister Gohar Ali Khan and Omar Ayub, have joined the SIC bloc in a bid to secure reserved seats.

Although this house has 266 general seats, elections were not held in NA-8 Bajaur due to the death of a candidate. In addition, around half a dozen seats have been vacated by candidates such as Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Marriyum Aurangzeb (on a reserved seat), Yousaf Raza Gilani, Shehbaz Sharif, Ali Amin Gandapur, and Maryam Nawaz, who emerged victorious on multiple seats.

Mr Gilani is also the potential PPP nominee for the Senate chairman, whereas Ms Aurangzeb has taken oath as a member of the Punjab Assembly.

Proceedings

When the house meets today, the incumbent speaker, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, will administer oath to the lawmakers-elect. The house will be adjourned after this exercise.

On the second day, the election for the speaker and his deputy will be held before noon, and the pair will be administered oath the same day. On the third day of the session, parliamentarians will select a leader of the house, or prime minister.

Shehbaz Sharif is the joint candidate for the PM slot against PTI-backed Omar Ayub while Ayaz Sadiq will contest the speaker election against PTI-backed Amir Dogar.

PPP lawmaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah will vie for the deputy speaker slot as a joint candidate of the PML-N and the PPP. The PPP and PML-N reached a power-sharing deal last week after the former agreed to support Shehbaz Sharif for the PM seat in return for governorships and Senate chairman slot.

It may be noted that following the Feb 8 polls, a multi-party alliance was formed comprising the PPP, PML-N, MQM-P, the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party, and the Balochistan Awami Party. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s political party has four seats in the National Assembly. Currently, he is up in arms against the election results. Will he sit on the treasury benches or the opposition, it is yet to be seen.

Reserved seats for SIC

At the moment, the PTI’s case for the reserved seats is before the ECP, which reserved its judgement on Wednesday after hearing stakeholders.

SIC counsel Barrister Ali Zafar argued that PTI-backed independent candidates joined the SIC, which was a political party registered with the ECP and has its symbol.

“Therefore PTI-backed independent candidates are now members of SIC and entitled to the reserved seats of women and minorities in accordance with their numbers in parliament,” he stressed. He also called out the PPP, PML-N, and the MQM-P which sought the reserved seats, saying their demand was tantamount to the mandate theft.

He said as per Article 51 any independent candidate could join any political party. “It does not say that the candidates are only required to join a political party which has an elected member in parliament,” he said, adding that the word used in Article 51 is “political party”, not “parliamentary party”.

The second argument raised is that SIC has not submitted a list for the reserved seats. Section 104 of the Election Act does require that a list has to be submitted, but that is only procedural, he added.

“However what is certain is that reserved seats cannot be denied on technical grounds and that these were not transferable,” Barrister Ali Zafar said.

On one occasion, the ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa asked Barrister Zafar if he wanted the commission to de-list the PTI after giving it a two-day notice. The SIC counsel replied that procedures would have to be followed for it.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, while pointing out that the SIC had not submitted the priority list of candidates, asked if the lists could be submitted after the election.

ECP member Babar Hasan Bharwana asked how could the reserved seats be allocated based on ‘independents’. The SIC has no status without the independent members, he said, asking why should not these seats be distributed among the parties which had won the seats in polls.

Barrister Ali Zafar said under the constitution the independents could join any enlisted party.

PPP’s Farooq H. Naek said that not one member of the SIC had won the general seat, adding that the council did not submit any priority list to the commission. He said as per Section 104 of the Elections Act, a new list could not be submitted after the date of the nomination papers has passed.

At this, Barrister Zafar said the BAP had been joined by independent lawmakers after 2018 elections. He said the BAP was not present in the KP Assembly before the independents joined it, but it was given reserved seats. PML-N’s Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar said that the Sunni Ittehad Council did not participate in the general elections.

Meanwhile, the ECP on Wednesday rejected the plea of former PM Nawaz Sharif challenging the election result of NA-15 in Mansehra. In another related development, the ECP notified five presiding officers for the conduct of upcoming presidential elections.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2024

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