Political parties agree on physical National Assembly session
Modalities for ‘Covid-safe’ parliamentary proceedings to be worked out
ISLAMABAD: The political parties in parliament on Wednesday agreed to call a physical session of the National Assembly and submitted proposals to ensure that it took place without putting its members at the risk of contracting Covid-19.
The parties’ parliamentary leaders participated in a virtual meeting of the NA committee on virtual sessions chaired by National Food Security Minister Syed Fakhar Imam, to finalise the modalities for future proceedings of the assembly in the wake of the viral outbreak.
The parliamentary leaders were of the view that parliament embodied the will of the people and so it should be made functional to continue its role of oversight of the executive.
Participating in the meeting via video link, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said there was no provision in the rules of the assembly for a virtual session so a physical one should be convened to take up pertinent issues concerning public at large besides important legislation.
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He suggested following standard operating procedures (SOPs) amid the pandemic for the safety of parliamentarians and the assembly’s support staff.
PML-N leaders Khawaja Asif and Ayaz Sadiq supported the idea of a physical session keeping in view the inadequate information technology facilities.
They said that virtual session would erode the dignity and sanctity of the parliament and the essence of participatory democracy.
They said the agenda, the number of members to be present in each sitting of the assembly and other issues could be decided with consensus.
Shahida Akhtar Ali of the JUI-F, Khalid Hussain Magsi of the Balochistan Awami Party and Jamaat-e-Islami’s Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali supported the idea of physical session while strictly following SOPs.
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Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Dr Fahmida Mirza noted that a physical session of the assembly could be convened by adopting health guidelines so that the safety of the members and the staff was not compromised.
They said that it was heartening to note that all the political forces were on same page in the present crisis.
Qureshi said the suggestions put forth by the parliamentary leaders were practical and further modalities may be worked out. Adviser to PM on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan informed the committee about the legislation pending in both the houses of parliament and with standing committees.
He said the session would help in expediting the process of legislation. The chairman decided to convene the committee’s final meeting next Wednesday to finalise the recommendations which would be presented to the National Assembly speaker for his consideration.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the parliamentary leaders were moving towards reaching a consensus on the modalities of safely holding a session of the assembly amid the pandemic.
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“All political parties were represented in the meeting today and they gave their input as to how to proceed with the assembly session,” the minister said.
“We are finalising the suggestions and forwarding them to the National Assembly speaker [Asad Qaiser], who will then decide how to proceed,” he added.
Qureshi appreciated the input of the parliamentary leaders and lauded the suggestions received from all political parties. “I can see us moving towards a consensus [on the modalities of the holding a physical assembly session].”
The foreign minister said the proposal of “proportional representation” by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was quite significant that could allow the session to take place while ensuring the safety of parliamentarians
He added that Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid’s suggestion to close all galleries except the press gallery during the session was also a good idea.
“The presence of parliamentarians from Sindh and Balochistan in the session might be difficult and alternative arrangements will have to be made.”
The minister said the government believed in the supremacy of parliament and valued the proposals received from parliamentary leaders.
“We must rise above political affiliations to ensure the sanctity of parliament,” he added.
“Parliamentary business continues across the world even in times of crisis.”
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The committee on virtual sessions was constituted by the NA speaker with the mandate to suggest amendments in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the National Assembly 2007, if any, for holding a virtual session of the National Assembly during the coronavirus pandemic.
The committee had extended invitations to the PPP chairman, PML-N’s Khawaja Asif, MMA’s Asad Mahmood and ANP’s Amir Haider Azam Khan.
The parliamentary leaders of the ruling party and its allies included Qureshi, GDP’s Ghous Bakhsh Mehr, PML-Q’s Tariq Bashir Cheema, BAP’s Khalid Hussain Magsi, BNP-M’s Akhtar Mengal, MQM-P’s Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, AML’s Sheikh Rashid and JWP’s Shahzain Bugti.
(With input from APP)