Time for protective legislation in parliament
ISLAMABAD, July 5: An urgent session of the National Assembly beginning on Friday and one of the Senate from Monday are likely to take up some rare protective legislation the government wants to bring in the face of an unrelenting judicial offensive.
Besides the planned bills, including one seeking to protect elected government functionaries from contempt of court proceedings, the first regular session of the National Assembly after Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf replaced his Supreme Court-disqualified predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, last month will also be watched for its conduct: whether a better sense prevails after rowdyism of the past two months.
However, any fireworks on the government’s new legislative plans and its decision to restore overland route for supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan will come after Friday’s sitting of the lower house which, beginning at 11am, will be devoted to paying homage to the memory of one of its most active lawmakers, Fauzia Wahab of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) who died last month after a complicated gallbladder operation.
The assembly met for a day on June 22 after her death but that was a special session to elect a new prime minister and the customary adjournment for a dead member was put off until the next regular session.
The most important government bill likely to produce most sparks will be a contempt law amendment, which Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said after a cabinet meeting that approved it on Wednesday would provide immunity to federal and provincial government leaders from being tried for contempt of court in the discharge of their official functions.
The urgency of this and a constitution amendment bill to allow holders of dual nationality to contest elections was evident from presidential orders summoning the two houses of parliament soon after the cabinet approved the legislative drafts.
It was a Supreme Court conviction for contempt of court on April 26 that cost then prime minister Gilani his job for refusing to write to Swiss authorities to reopen disputed money-laundering charges against President Asif Ali Zardari on grounds of his constitutional immunity.
And the court has now asked Prime Minister Ashraf to submit his reply to a similar demand on July 12.
The new law, which is likely to face stiff opposition from the Pakistan Muslim League-N which led the political campaign against Mr Gilani and went to court as well to get the annulment of a ruling of the National Assembly Speaker, Fehmida Mirza, that had exempted the former premier from attracting disqualification because of the contempt conviction.
But its passage will not be much of a problem as it needs only a simple majority of members present in either house while the PPP-led coalition enjoys the support of overwhelming majority in both the chambers.
The question of allowing holders of dual nationality to become voters and contest elections had also gained urgency after the Supreme Court suspended the membership of several federal and provincial lawmakers.
That requires removal of a constitutional bar for which the bill, proposed by the ministry for overseas Pakistanis, could get support even from opposition parties as members suspended by the Supreme Court belong to almost all major parties.
Another important legislation that needs approval of the two houses is a June 24 presidential ordinance granting indemnity to all actions taken by Mr Gilani as prime minister from the date of his conviction on April 26 to June 19 when the court ordered his disqualification.
But there was no official word yet about which of these laws would be brought first.