ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Thursday approved 21 laws including Elections (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the bill to provide right of appeal to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, after suspending the rules of business amid the opposition’s strong protest and boycott.
The opposition members staged walkout and pointed out lack of quorum three times, but each time the chair declared the house in order and continued the business, forcing the opposition to resort to noisy protest.
At one stage, the opposition challenged the ruling of Speaker Asad Qaiser on the voice vote on a motion seeking to suspend the rules. The speaker ordered a physical vote count and the opposition faced a defeat with 112-101 vote.
The opposition members gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and raised slogans like “Modi Ka Jo Yar Hai Ghaddar Hai” (Modi’s friend is a traitor) and “Kulbhushan Ko Phansi Do” (Hang Kulbhushan) when Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA Ahsan Iqbal pointed out that the government had included the bill in the heavy legislative agenda to provide relief to the Indian spy.
The opposition protested over the government’s move to bring the bills on the agenda after suspending the rule that says that the members should be given at least 48 hours before presenting a bill in the National Assembly for passage after presentation of a report on the bill by committee concerned.
The only justification the ministers, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, gave was that since the assembly was going into budget session from Friday (today), they did not want to delay their passage as many of the bills were to provide relief to the masses.
“We did whatever we could do to stop you but you are bent upon defacing the history. Therefore, we have decided to boycott the proceedings,” declared Abdul Qadir Patel of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) before the third and last walkout of the opposition when the government had already passed eight bills.
Mr Patel said the opposition was considering to move no-confidence motion against the chair.
Later, the opposition members submitted a no-confidence motion to the NA Secretariat against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who presided over most part of the sitting, for alleged “abusive disregard” of the assembly rules, “collaborating illegally with the treasury members to move the bills that had not been sent to the committees” and for disregarding with mala fide the opposition’s call for quorum.
The opposition had pointed out quorum on four occasions, but the deputy speaker snubbed the opposition and did not order a headcount.
The assembly also passed the Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2021, which was on the agenda of the standing committee on power earlier in the day, but could not be taken up due to the absence of Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar.
Shazia Marri of the PPP protested over the government’s move to pass a bill without approval by the committee and asked the treasury members of the committee to say on oath they had passed the bill. She alleged that the bill was being bulldozed to fulfill the agenda of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Mr Azhar, however, instead of responding to Ms Marri’s objection, went ahead to present the bill for the passage amid the opposition’s “shame, shame” slogans.
The house also witnessed a rumpus when PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf protested over remarks of Foreign Minister Qureshi, who had stated that by opposing the bill to provide relief to Jadhav, the opposition members were toeing the Indian narrative.
“Do you want to give a message to India that half of the country’s population is with India since we had secured votes of half of Pakistanis? Take back your words,” Mr Ashraf said.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari asked the speaker to provide some time to the members to see the bills. He criticised the government for first bringing the bill to provide relief to the Indian spy through an ordinance and then getting it passed through bulldozing the legislation. Similarly, he said, the government should have engaged the opposition if it wanted to give right of vote to overseas Pakistanis and use electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the elections.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said what guarantee the government members could give that the country’s elections would not be hacked by India or RAW through EVMs.
PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar questioned the urgency being shown by the government in getting the bills passed.
“Is it the last session of the assembly? Will the assembly be dissolved after the budget?” he asked.
PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal also objected to the elections (amendment) bill, saying for the first time in the country’s history electoral reforms were being carried out without a national consensus.
About the bill to provide relief to the Indian spy, he said it was a person-specific bill and the name of Kulbhushan Jadhav was mentioned in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the bill. He said when the country’s law allowed high courts to review the sentences awarded by military courts then what was the need for bringing the law.
Law Minister Farogh Nasim said the bill was being passed in the light of the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Mr Nasim said he was shocked to see the opposition’s behaviour and it seemed that the opposition had not read the ICJ verdict. He said the ICJ had clearly asked Pakistan to make effective legislation to provide the right of review to the Indian spy.
“India wants us to do what you (the opposition) are saying,” said the law minister amid the opposition’s slogans “traitor, traitor”.
Speaking again after passage of the ICJ (Review and Re-consideration) Bill, 2020, aimed at allowing Indian spy Jadhav to have consular access in line with the ICJ verdict, the law minister said had they not passed the bill, India would have gone to the UN Security Council and could have moved contempt proceedings against Pakistan in the ICJ. He said by passing the law, they had proved it to the world that Pakistan was a responsible state.
The government had already enforced the law through promulgation of an ordinance in May last year soon after the ICJ verdict in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case.
Amid stiff resistance offered by opposition parties, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Oct 21, last year, had approved the bill that seeks a review of conviction of Indian spy Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a military court for espionage and terrorism.
Similarly, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Parliamentary Affairs had cleared the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2021 on June 8 amid the opposition’s protest.
The Elections (Amendment) Bill 2020 was introduced in the National Assembly on Oct 16, 2020 and it was passed by the standing committee concerned on June 8 amid the opposition’s protest.
Major changes proposed in the bill include more financial autonomy to the Election Commission of Pakistan; appeal to the Supreme Court by any aggrieved person on delimitation lists; provision to challenge appointment of polling officers/staff within 15 days of appointment; increase in nomination fee from Rs30,000 to Rs50,000 for National Assembly candidates and from Rs20,000 to Rs30,000 for provincial assembly candidates; vacation of seats of returned candidate if oath is not taken within 60 days of the first sitting of the assembly; voting right for overseas Pakistanis and use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections.
The other bills passed by the assembly included the Financial Institutions (Secured Transactions) (Amendment) Bill 2021; the Port Qasim Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021; the Gwadar Port Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2021; the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Bill, 2020 and the Covid-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Bill, 2020.