Deadlock in talks on 20th Amendment
ISLAMABAD: Despite being stung by the Supreme Court, the ruling coalition and opposition in the National Assembly seemed stalled by a deadlock on Monday on a constitution amendment bill seeking to validate more than two dozen post-Eighteenth Amendment by-elections.
Negotiators of the two sides failed to reach an agreement after a three-hour meeting that lasted until late at night, but they said they had agreed to meet again on Tuesday evening as the Constitution (Twentieth Amendment) Bill seemed destined to wait until Wednesday, when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani too will have returned from a two-day official visit to Qatar.
The original two-clause draft, already approved by a house stranding committee, only sought to rectify an alleged flaw in by-elections to 28 seats of both houses of parliament and provincial assemblies that cropped up before the Supreme Court during the hearing of another case on the ground that the votes were held when the Election Commission was not complete.
But the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N had made acceptance of its own amendments to ensure independence of the Election Commission and guarantees about the independence of a caretaker set-up that must oversee a general election as conditions for supporting the bill.
The government had seemed agreeable to extending the tenure of four members of the Election Commission to five years — like that of the chief election commissioner — but the two sides failed to resolve differences between them on the mode of guaranteeing about the independence of the caretaker set-up.
Hours after a Supreme Court bench ordered suspension of the 28 lawmakers elected in the by-elections – most of them belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party and PML-N – until the validating amendment is made, bill was deferred for the fourth consecutive sitting of the National Assembly without citing any reason after the house met after a two-day weekend.
But after the house was adjourned until 10.30am on Tuesday, the negotiators of the two sides met behind closed doors at the chambers of opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who led the opposition side with PPP chief whip Khurshid Ahmed Shah leading his side along with Senator Raza Rabbani, Water and Power Minister Naveed Qamar and former federal minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
On the opposition side, Chaudhry Nisar was assisted by PML-N senator Ishaq Dar and MNA Khawaja Mohamamd Asif, while Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PPP-S leader Aftab Ahmed Sherpao represented their own parties.
Mr Khurshid Shah, who is also the religious affairs minister, told reporters after the meeting that the government had accepted most of demands of what he called “combined opposition”, while Chaudhry Nisar reported a deadlock on guarantees about the caretaker set-up.
The ruling coalition has been saying in the past that it has two-thirds majorities in both the 342-seat National Assembly and the 100-seat Senate required to pass an amendment to the Constitution but would prefer a consensus with the opposition as was done in the unanimous passage of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments.
However, these claims were put to a practical test, and Chaudhry Nisar said after the meeting that things might become very difficult for the coalition to have a two-thirds majority after suspension of its lawmakers from both the lower and upper houses.