After acrimony, mending of ways in NA
ISLAMABAD, July 10: After more than two months of acrimony between Pakistan’s major political rivals, there seemed to be a mending of ways in the National Assembly for the second day on Tuesday, with one party calling for burying “the politics of revenge”.
After the first concrete indication of a change came with a bipartisan parliamentary committee agreeing to nominate former Supreme Court judge Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim as the next chief election commissioner, the trend seemed continuing on Tuesday, the first private members’ day of the present session, though only verbally.
The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), the main opposition party, appeared to be compensating for its initial short shrift of an olive branch extended by new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf last week with calls for taking a sensible approach in politics instead of attacking one another.
The PML-N had carried out a ferocious noisy campaign against former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after the Supreme Court convicted him for contempt of court in late April and went to court to seek his disqualification ordered last month but now says it does not want it to happen again. However, the party held only moderate protests like walkouts in the Senate.
The lustre of Monday’s consensus on the country’s new top election official was overshadowed by a new contempt of court bill that the government rushed through the National Assembly overnight in a move to protect Prime Minister Ashraf to meet his predecessor’s fate.
But even brief remarks by a couple of party lawmakers to a poorly attended sitting on Tuesday, which also saw the introduction of six private bills without any government objection, pointed to a continuity of an apparent trend.
“Political revenge must be buried in this country,” PML-N member Saad Rafiq said while responding to jibes at his party’s alleged backstabbing of the past from two members of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Despite the PML-N’s vote against the new contempt law, Mr Rafiq said: “We don’t want an elected prime minister to be ousted though courts … (because) the will of people, or ‘jamhoor’, is supreme.”
But, apparently referring to recent reported controversial remarks by Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry against the concept of the supremacy of parliament, the PML-N member said advocates of that concept must prove their point by a “footprint” of good governance.
“You cannot protect your prime minister by legislation,” he said in reference to the new contempt law, which exempts public office holders like a prime minister from prosecution for contempt of court for “exercise of powers and performance of functions” of their respective offices.
However, Mr Rafiq, who has been in the forefront of explaining his party’s political line in the house in past few days in the absence of opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, urged political parties to shun targeting each other and said: “Sense must prevail.”
His party colleague Ayaz Amir, who called the disqualification of premier Gilani as “regrettable for us”, warned against a “new Bonapartism” seeking to destabilise Pakistan after the experience of four martial laws and said: “The wind blowing today is not devoid of danger.”
The supreme court came for some implied criticism from PPP benches, prompting a warning from Riaz Fatyana of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), then chairing the house, against any criticism of the judiciary and a charge from Mr Rafiq of the PML-N that the treasury benches had begun doing what they actually wanted to use the new contempt law for.
“No individual has a right to dictate to parliament,” said Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, a sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, in an apparent reference to the chief justice’s reported remarks against parliamentary supremacy and that the Supreme Court could strike down any law made contrary to the Constitution.
She also seemed hitting at the Supreme Court’s refusal to send its registrar to the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for a scrutiny of the court accounts, saying the committee’s functioning “should not be hampered”.
Another PPP member, Noor Alam Khan from Peshawar, asked why only the PPP was being judicially targeted while the chief justice was not deciding on a stay order on the election of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif or reopening the case of a 1997 mob raid on the Supreme Court that was blamed on the then PML-N government.
He also wondered why the Supreme Court should refuse scrutiny of its accounts by the PAC while the accounts of armed forces and the presidency could undergo such examination.
Ms Bushra Gohar of the government-allied Awami National party opposed a government bill, introduced earlier in the day in the Senate, seeking to increase the rate of pensions for the widows of superior court judges, questioning the merit of this move.
PRIVATE BILLS: Of the six bills introduced in the sitting, and sent to concerned standing committees for scrutiny, one authored by Iqbal Muhammad Ali Khan and Abdul Kadir Khanzada of the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement seeks an amendment in the constitution to provide for what the draft called a “curative review jurisdiction” for the Supreme Court after the normal review of a judgement to “remedy any miscarriage of justice in rarest and exception circumstances”.
A bill introduced by PPP’s former religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi seeks amendments in the Defamation Ordinance of 2002 to guard against defamation of any person such as by the media before being proven guilty of acting against public interest.
PML-Q’s Ms Nosheen Saeed introduced three bills, one of which seeks an amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code to prescribe the punishment of death or life imprisonment and minimum fine of Rs500,000 for “rape or carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with a child.
Another seeks amendment in the Injured Persons (Medical Aid) Act of 2004 to give an injured person the right to file complaints with a magistrate directly, instead of medical superintendents, for punishment of delinquent doctors, while the third seeks to amend the Pakistan Telecommunication (Reorganisation) Act of 1996 to provide for a strict regulatory regimes to check misuse of telecommunication services.
A constitution amendment bill by PML-N’s Naseer Bhutta seeks to insert an expression in article 260 of the Constitution to define the word “life” as one including “the quality of life, adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter”.