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Parliament mired in legislative limbo

December 04, 2012

A view of the National Assembly. — File photo

ISLAMABAD, Dec 3: Defections in the PML-Q and resignations of several ruling coalition legislators because of dual nationality have strengthened the bargaining position of the PML-N in negotiations with the government over its support or otherwise to a number of bills in the National Assembly.

A calculation done by Dawn of the comparative strength of the opposition and treasury members shows that the ruling coalition, headed by the Pakistan People’s Party, has lost its commanding position in the 342-member National Assembly and now it has been left with no other option but to take the PML-N along if it wants to get any amendment bill passed from the lower house.

The government is already negotiating with the PML-N at the standing committee level and behind the scene three constitution amendment bills and two other important legislations, the National Accountability Commission Bill 2012 and the Fair Trial Act 2012.

It was perhaps after realising the significance of taking the PML-N along the constitution amendment bills that the government despite having a strong desire deferred the presentation of the accountability law and the fair trial act in the National Assembly in its last session.

The government has no difficulty in getting the two bills passed from both houses of parliament because it requires only a simple majority but the PPP leadership decided to postpone the passage of the bills in an effort to show a good gesture to the PML-N.

The two bills are being discussed at the Standing Committee on Law and Justice and the committee had already agreed to accept some of the amendments the PML-N wanted to include in the fair trial act that will provide more powers to the security forces and intelligence agencies to collect evidence through mobile phone tapping and emails of the suspected terrorists.

Last month, the government had twice failed to get two different bills on dual nationality issue passed from the Senate after failing to ensure the presence of the required number in the upper house where it clearly has two-third majority.

The opposition PML-N in principle supports the dual nationality bill, but it is opposed to certain clauses of the draft that was presented by Law Minister Farooq Naek in the Senate.

The PML-N is opposed to the government’s move to make the law effective with retrospective effect from Nov 2007 which will nullify the Supreme Court’s orders about disqualification of about a dozen legislators as it says that all decisions taken by the courts or the Election Commission will be considered a closed and past transaction.

Similarly, the PML-N is also against the provision which allows a dual national to contest the election and renounce the foreign citizenship before taking oath as a legislator.

It wants that the dual national should be required to renounce the foreign nationality at the time of filing nomination papers.

Apart from the 22nd and 23rd constitution amendment bills which deal with dual national parliamentarians and civil servants, according to sources, the law ministry is in the process of preparing a draft of the 24th constitution amendment bill as well that will put a bar on judges of the higher judiciary to possess dual nationality.

NUMBER GAME: The latest party position in the National Assembly after the resignation of four MQM lawmakers and one from the PML-Q in the last couple of days shows that the ruling coalition is in a difficult position to get the two-third majority in the lower house which is required for carrying out any constitution amendment bill.

On papers, the ruling coalition is short of seven members to get the required two-third strength of 228 members and to achieve the goal, it will not only be requiring the support of seven opposition members, but it will also have to ensure the presence of the members at the time of the voting in the house, which will be a daunting task, if not impossible.

With the support of 126 MNAs from PPP, 44 of PML-Q, 21 of MQM, 13 of ANP, 10 independents, five of PML-F and one each from BNP-Awami and National People’s Party, the total strength on the treasury benches comes to 221 members.

The strength on the opposition benches is 113 with 93 legislators belonging to PML-N, eight (JUI-F), eight (independents), three (PML-Like Minded) and one (PPP-Sherpao).

Eight seats have been lying vacant in the house and by-polls on two of them are scheduled for today (Tuesday).