Constitutional obligation: NA falls short of required sittings

The lower house met for only 23 days in the past five months while 107 days of sittings are required before the end of the parliamentary year

ISLAMABAD: The federal government is in a fix over the fact that despite a lapse of around five months, the National Assembly (NA) has only met for 23 days – far short of the requisite sittings mainly due to an unprecedented closure of the Parliament House due to coronavirus pandemic and non-cooperation of the opposition.
A well-informed source told Pakistan Today that under the law, it is a constitutional requirement for the lower house of the parliament to remain in session for 130 days in each parliamentary year – starting from August 13.
“The National Assembly met for only 23 days in past five months while 107 days of sittings are required before the end of the parliamentary year on August 13 this year,” the source said requesting anonymity.
The source said that the prime reasons for the lack of sessions was shutdown of the parliamentary business due to novel coronavirus pandemic while the lack of cooperation from the opposition parties was also a major reason.
“The situation has left National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar in a tight corner as he has to fulfil the constitutional requirement of 107 more sittings of the House before August 13. During the last five months of the current parliamentary year, there have been only 23 sittings.”
“The speaker has made the National Assembly subject to the guidelines of the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC),” the source added.
In this regard, the source said, the speaker had also sought assistance from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs but to no avail.
According to a document obtained by Pakistan Today, a letter was written by the NA to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs to convene a meeting on December 10 to seek the opinion of NCOC for convening the sessions. However, according to NA sources, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs has not yet responded.
The source said that the protest rally announced by Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has outside the offices of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on January 19 has further complicated the situation.
“National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjarani also met on the issue, but no progress was made.”
The source said that the speaker had convened a high-level consultative meeting of federal ministers in the context of convening a meeting of the National Assembly attended by Pervez Khattak, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, Shafqat Mehmood, Chief Whip Malik Amir Dogar, Minister of State Ali Muhammad Khan and Advisor to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan.
It was decided at the meeting that the prime minister would be consulted on the matter and the parliamentary leaders of the opposition parties would be consulted, the source added.
In a meeting with the speaker, the source asserted, Prime Minister Imran said that in the current situation of the pandemic, all political parties need to play a positive role with regard to the functioning of the Parliament. However, Speaker Qaiser said that a plan of action would be formulated in consultation with the opposition parties to take the legislative process forward. Federal ministers were also tasked with persuading the opposition, but they could not make a breakthrough.
The source said that the speaker, in consultation with the prime minister and federal ministers, had initiated contacts with the opposition to convene a meeting of the NA this month and other opposition parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
However, the source said, the opposition had expressed reservations over what they called the ‘biased’ role of the speaker and non-issuance of production order of the leader of the opposition.
“The opposition had made it clear that they would not cooperate until the speaker’s attitude changed. The government had faced difficulties in completing the last parliamentary year and the National Assembly held long sessions with the opposition before the end of the parliamentary year,” the source added.
When contacted, chief whip of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Dogar, did not respond. An official at the lower house, however, said that the situation was far from worse and the Speaker would deal with the challenge amicably.
“There are seven long months of the parliamentary year and the Speaker would deal with the situation. We only have to convene the assembly for 107 days which is not difficult at all. We will make it before August 13,” the official maintained.

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Mian Abrar
The writer heads Pakistan Today's Islamabad Bureau. He has a special focus on counter-terrorism and inter-state relations in Asia, Asia Pacific and South East Asia regions. He can be reached at [email protected]

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