ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly session, which was scheduled to continue till Friday, was prorogued on Wednesday within minutes of the start of the sitting as the opposition alleged that the move was aimed at avoiding election for the vacant office of the deputy speaker.
Ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) member Syed Fakhar Imam, who was presiding over the sitting in the absence of the speaker, surprisingly started reading out the prorogation order issued by President Dr Arif Alvi as soon as Balochistan National Party member Dr Shahnaz Baloch pointed out lack of quorum soon after recitation from the Holy Quran and Naat and playing of the national anthem.
Mr Imam ordered a head count and later declared that the house was not in order due to lack of quorum, for which the presence of one-fourth members (86) of the total 342-member house is required. Instead of routinely suspending the proceedings till the completion of quorum, Mr Imam read out the prorogation order without taking up any item on the agenda.
The sudden prorogation of the session came hours after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued a notification unseating Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri in the light of last week’s decision of Balochistan High Court’s election tribunal.
Opposition alleges move aimed at avoiding election to vacant office
The tribunal had on Friday declared Mr Suri’s election to the National Assembly as void and ordered a re-election in the NA-265 (Quetta-II) constituency. The NA-265 result had been challenged by Nawabzada Lashkari Raisani alleging rigging in the constituency.
Mr Suri has already approached the Supreme Court against the election tribunal’s decision, but so far his case has not been fixed for hearing.
During a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee presided over Speaker Asad Qaiser on Monday, the government and the opposition had agreed that the National Assembly session would continue till Friday (tomorrow).
The NA Secretariat had even issued an official handout for the purpose.
The prorogation of the session that lasted for only 11 minutes prompted a strong reaction from the opposition which later alleged that the government had ‘insulted’ the entire parliament for the sake of an individual.
Talking to reporters outside the Parliament House, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) Khawaja Asif and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said that under the rules, the speaker was bound to announce the schedule for the election on the deputy speaker seat, following the ECP’s notification.
The demand for the election had been made by PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar during the opening day of the assembly session on Monday. Speaker Qaiser had responded he had not so far received any notification from the ECP and he would review the matter only after formally receiving it.
Mr Qamar had pointed out Rule 11 of the Rules and Procedure for Conduct of Business in the National Assembly 2012, which states that the election of the speaker or the deputy speaker must be held immediately, if the office falls vacant at a time when the assembly is already in session.
There were no official words from the government in response to the opposition’s criticism.
Speaking at a news conference after a meeting between PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday, leaders of the two parties had said that they would nominate a consensus candidate for the office of the deputy speaker.
Sources in the ruling party told Dawn that the NA session had been prorogued to avoid a constitutional crisis and in the hope that Mr Suri would succeed in getting a stay order against the tribunal’s decision.