ISLAMABAD, July 6: It was both mourning and smiles as the National Assembly opened its first regular session with a new prime minister on Friday ahead of potential sparks next week over issues like the reopening of Nato supply routes to Afghanistan and a planned government bill to protect its leaders from contempt of court dangers.
Though the day’s brief sitting was formally devoted to the expression of sorrow across party lines over the recent tragic death of house member Fauzia Wahab in a complicated gallbladder operation — which ensured smooth proceedings in a departure from turmoil of some previous sessions — most speculation in the galleries, and possibly inside the house, focused on the proposed contempt bill approved by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s cabinet on Wednesday.
And leader of opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was not present in the house, issued a statement later threatening to make the government “feel the heat” next week over its alleged somersaults in allowing a resumption of Nato supplies after a seven-month suspension and that his PML-N party “will oppose with all its strength” what he called the government’s ambition to marginalise the Supreme Court through the new contempt law.
There was no official word about when the house will receive the bill, which is obviously aimed to avoid situations like last month’s disqualification of then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani by the Supreme Court for a contempt conviction while a similar threat could confront his successor if he too disobeyed a court order to write to Swiss authorities to reopen disputed money-laundering charges against President Asif Ali Zardari on the plea of the president’s constitutional immunity against prosecution.
But political sources said that despite the approval of the draft bill by the cabinet, in which all parties of the PPP-led coalition are represented, the president and the new prime minister would likely have more discussions with the leaders of the coalition parties to ensure a smooth passage of the bill in both houses of parliament.
The bill must be passed by only a simple majority of members present in a sitting while the coalition comprising the Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and some small parties and independents from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas claim support of more than two-thirds majorities in both the 342-seat National Assembly and the 104-seat Senate.
The coalition will need a two-thirds majority of the total membership of either house for the passage of another proposed bill, which involves amendment of the Constitution and is aimed to allow voting and participation in elections for Pakistanis holding a dual nationality.
Before tributes to Ms Fauzia Wahab from all parties, in which Prime Minister Ashraf and Speaker Fehmida Mirza also joined and several members called her a brave lady, her successor, Shazia Marri, a former provincial information minister, took oath as a new PPP member of the house.
While several lawmakers praised Ms Wahab for her bold advocacy for democracy and parliament and her party positions, a couple of them called for the house to be informed how a usually simple gallbladder operation became so complicated that it took her life.
The house speaker, who herself is a professional doctor, wondered if house members could give suggestions about setting an “age limit” for surgeons and, in response to a suggestion from PPP member Abdul Kadir Patel, said a committee of the house could be set up to look into Ms Wahab’s death if there was a consensus among parties, before she adjourned the house until 5pm on Monday.