ISLAMABAD, Oct 25: The government on Monday failed to get a bill seeking to enhance punishment for 'honour killing' passed in the National Assembly because it could not maintain quorum. A clause-by-clause reading was completed, though, and only a vote remained to be taken.

The bill was piloted by the government to counter a more comprehensive bill on the subject tabled earlier by opposition's Sherry Rahman.

Ms Rahman described the government-sponsored bill as eyewash which "misses the essential ingredients which could have confronted the main issues and punished those committing murder in the name of honour".

Talking to Dawn, she said despite "our best efforts" the state had not been made 'wali' in honour killing cases nor the discretionary powers of judges curtailed.

It was for the first time that the current assembly saw its quorum being broken three times in a single sitting. The opposition kept the treasury on its toes by repeatedly indicating the lack of quorum.

It alleged that the chair persisted with the proceedings by falsifying the count "although quorum was never complete". Even non-members, including senators and ministers of state were counted as MNAs, it charged.

A treasury member belonging to the MQM told journalists that the majority of treasury members were absent from the house because they were opposed to the passage of the bill.

Minister for parliamentary affairs, law minister and the chief whip took pains to bring their colleagues to the house. Those present were mostly seen engaged in idle gossip.

The lower house presented a hilarious scene, with the opposition time and again pointing towards lack of quorum and the speaker ruling the house in order even as the former cried foul.

When Deputy Speaker Sardar Muhammad Yaqub Khan took the chair in the final sitting, he ignored shouts about incomplete quorum and carried on the business. It was after about 10 minutes that he took notice and ordered a count. Subsequently, he adjourned the house for 20 minutes for Zuhr prayers at 1.50pm.

When the house resumed its proceedings at 2.35pm, PPP Parliamentarians' Raja Parvez Ashraf, Sherry Rahman, Syed Naveed Qamar, and Chaudhry Manzoor together pointed out that there was a lack of quorum.

The treasury pressed them to let the bill be passed, but to no avail. They were even summoned to the speaker's chamber but they did not relent.

Hafiz Hussain Ahmed of the MMA and the speaker had a verbal brawl when the latter asked the former to cite rules which barred him from continuing with the proceedings.

While Mr Ahmed said the opposition had been observing rules of business, the chair violated them, the speaker said: "Don't observe rules in the future and you will face the music."

Law Minister Wasi Zafar criticized the opposition for "opposing everything without offering any argument".

He remarked: "They invited the army to intervene and when they failed to form their own government, they started creating noise."

He said the army and people's representatives would run the country's affairs together and the constitution allowed them to do so.

He said if the opposition was fond of launching a movement it was free to do so and "I assure them the people will not welcome them".

M.P. Bhindara, another treasury member, asked the chair not to show much tolerance towards the opposition and get on with the business without caring for the ugly scenes.

Bushra Rahman showered praise on the speaker for what she called accommodating the opposition and even at times ignoring the treasury. Still, the attitude of the opposition was unbecoming, she lamented.

At 12.45pm, the opposition members walked in from the side lobby, chanting anti-Musharraf slogans.

Before boycotting the proceedings, Liaquat Baloch of the MMA said: "The combined opposition's protest is continuing against the government's betrayal on the agreement it had reached with the MMA on the 17th amendment by passing the twin-office bill."

Opposition members then started thumping desks and chanting slogans as usual against the president.

The treasury was critical of what it saw the speaker's tolerance towards the opposition, and pressed him to take up house business without listening to their points of order regarding lack of quorum.

After the combined opposition walked out, a clause-by-clause reading and voice vote on the bill began.

The government assured the house on a call-attention notice that it was alive to overspendings by tobacco companies on cigarettes advertisements.

Health Minister Nasir Khan admitted that cigarette consumption, which had declined in the west, was on the rise in developing countries due to huge advertisement budgets.

He said the government would do its best to stop advertisements through big hoardings on highways.

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