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NA, Senate limp to delayed sessions today

September 03, 2012

ISLAMABAD, Sept 2: A judiciary-battered parliament limps to somewhat delayed sessions of its two houses on Monday, clouded by more potentially bruising battles during an expected quick march through the remainder of its tenure.

But for Ramazan and Eid holidays last month, the National Assembly and Senate should have met earlier to take stock of the situation after the Supreme Court struck down a new contempt of court law passed by them while both parliament and the PPP-led coalition government were still reeling from the court-ordered disqualification of then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in June.

The new sessions of the two houses, both due to begin at 5pm, come while a similar danger hangs over the head of the present prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, though there has been a talk of finding a via media after the last court hearing last week over implementing the court order to write to Swiss authorities to reopen disputed money-laundering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, or just tell them to ignore a 2008 letter that dropped the charges.

While the prime minister has up to Sept 18 to make up his mind, both the houses have yet to hold promised debates on the Supreme Court’s role in the affair that is perceived to have hurt the concept of supremacy of parliament in a parliamentary form of government.

The National Assembly was not summoned since it passed the new contempt law on July 13 mainly to spare the new prime minister the fate of his predecessor – who was disqualified for contempt of court for not writing the letter to Swiss authorities – and had no occasion to discuss the fate of its legislation. The Senate met the same day as the court struck down the contempt law on Aug 3, but its brief session was adjourned after oath-taking by Interior Minister Rehman Malik for being re-elected as a member of the upper house and a discussion on the Karachi violence.

Speculation is rife – and this point may also come up in parliamentary debates – whether the judiciary could risk the backlash of sending a second prime minister home.

Besides that, the National Assembly and Senate sessions are likely to be dominated by a new controversy over a parliamentary commission formed by National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza to recommend on the proposed creation of two new provinces out of Punjab, a new wave of sectarian violence, power outages, and regularly increasing prices of petroleum products.

As the Senate will open its session with a private members’ day, devoted to private bills and resolutions rather than hot political controversies, the National Assembly could see the PML-N agitate to justify its about-face over the new provinces by raising objections to its formation after supporting the demand for the creation of a south Punjab province and restoration of the old Bahawalpur province through a Punjab provincial assembly resolution.

And when the issue comes up, the speaker is expected to respond to the main PML-N objections that she named two of its members of the National Assembly and one senator on the 14-member commission without consulting the party and that the PML-N members should have comprised at least half of the commission for being the main party of the province, and also to a resolution adopted by the Punjab assembly on Wednesday rejecting the commission altogether with its PML-N speaker refusing to name two commission members from his legislature.

The issues of the new provinces, mainly supported by the ruling coalition, and formation of consensus interim governments at the centre and in the provinces to oversee the next elections are likely to remain hot topics in and outside parliament during the remaining period of the present government’s five-year term.

The legislative business of about two weeks of the sessions is likely to include a long-pending and controversial bill to replace the present Musharraf-era National Accountability Bureau with a more independent and higher-level accountability commission and a new bill to strengthen the Anti-Terrorism Act to facilitate convictions.