ISLAMABAD: The lower house of the parliament on Thursday passed a record number of government bills in just over an hour amid an angry protest by opposition lawmakers, who were not allowed to speak during the entire session, chaired by Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri.
On Thursday, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government introduced in the National Assembly 15 bills, eleven of which were approved with majority vote. These bills also incorporated nine ordinances, including seven recently promulgated ones. The NA also gave 120-day extension to three ordinances.
The NA met for two hours and 36 minutes. However, the proceedings remained suspended for 28 minutes due to prayer break. The sitting started at 4.22 pm against the scheduled time of 4pm.
Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri chaired the entire sitting in the absence of the speaker, Asad Qaiser. Both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif did not attend the sitting. As many as 35 (10%) MPs were present at the outset and 59 (17%) at the adjournment of the sitting.
The house passed nine bills after their presentation as ordinances. The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business were dispensed through passage of motions for immediate consideration of the bills following which these were passed after voice voting, by skipping their mandatory three readings.
Earlier, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan moved a motion under rule 288 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business that the requirements of rule 69 of the said rules be suspended in respect of question hour for that day which was passed by the house
The opposition strongly reacted to this situation and protested for 29 minutes against dispensing the National Assembly rules for hasty passage of the bills and reliance on ordinances for legislation.
The opposition MNAs gathered in front of the speaker's dais; shouted slogans against Prime Minister Imran Khan, the PTI government and the deputy speaker and threw in the air torn copies of the agenda.
These bills that were sailed through the parliament included the Medical Tribunal Bill 2019, Pakistan Medical Commission Bill 2019, Letters of Administration and Succession Certificates Bill 2019, Enforcement of Women's Property Rights Bill 2019, Legal Aid and Justice Authority Bill 2019, Superior Courts (Court Dress and Mode of Address) Order (Repeal) Bill 2019, Benami Transaction (Prohibition) (Amendment) Bill 2019, National Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2019 and the Whistleblower Protection and Vigilance Commission Bill 2019.
Two other bills passed after reports of relevant standing committees were the Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2019 and the Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority Bill 2019. Minister of state for parliamentary laid the Recovery of Mortgage-backed Security Ordinance, 2019.
Four bills that were referred to the relevant committees after their introduction were the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019, Islamabad Capital Territory Senior Citizens Bill 2019, National Highways Safety (Amendment) Bill 2019 and the Anti-terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
The house adopted three resolutions through voice voting to extend three ordinances for a further period of 120 days with effect from November 9, 2019. These included the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority Ordinance 2019, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Amendment) Ordinance 2019 and the Pakistan Penal Code (Amendment) Ordinance 2019
A report of Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat about the Federal Public Service Commission (Validation of Rules) Bill, 2018 was also presented in the house.
Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri adjourned the house to meet again on Friday (today) at 11:00 am after completion of more than 90 per cent agenda.
Oppositions' outburst and govt's response
Talking to media after the session, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders dubbed the NA's Thursday proceedings as the darkest hour in the parliament's history.
The PPP leader and former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said the parliament had not been disgraced this way even during dictatorial regimes.
"Throughout the session, the chair did not allow the opposition members to speak and the bills very hastily passed without any debate. The PM must take notice of this undemocratic behaviour," he said
The PML-N's Khawaja Asif said the shameful manner in which the government sailed different bills through the parliament's lower house was unprecedented.
"The deputy speaker who [allegedly] won election through 65,000 bogus votes is running the parliament. Such type of legislation can only be done by such incompetent people," he said.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Federal Minister Azam Swati, however, rejected the opposition's objections. Dr Firdous said the government wanted to replace the colonial era laws with better laws.
"The parliament has come into existence to provide relief to the people of Pakistan. The opposition should also help government in legislation rather than staging protests on roads," she said.
Production orders for PPP leaders
The NA speaker on Thursday also issued production orders for incarcerated opposition leaders including the PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, MNA Khursheed Shah and the PML-N's Khawaja Saad Rafique, sources told The Express Tribune. However, interestingly, production orders for the PML-N's Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Rana Sanaullah have not been issued.