ISLAMABAD - On the first day of new parliamentary year the Senate changed the rules of the game with majority vote, bounding the prime minister to personally appear and answer questions from lawmakers at least once a week.
The PML-N led treasury benches, which does not have an upper hand in the Upper House of the Parliament, created rumpus during Monday’s sitting but failed to block a resolution carrying a set of amendments in the rules of the House.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had not come in the Senate even for a single time since he took oath of his office in June 2013, though opposition demanded a number of times for his presence in the House at least for once.
Rule Numbers 61, 64, and 178 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate, 2012 were amended on the motion of MQM lawmaker Tahir Hussain Mashhadi with the majority vote of PPP, ANP, PML-Q, MQM from opposition side and JUI-F and an independent Senator Mahabbat Khan Marri from treasury side.
A provocative statement of treasury member Senator Jaffer Iqbal compelled the opposition to stage a walkout from the House before the amendments were passed. “The prime minister is occupied by the multiple crises the country is facing and it is difficult for him to come to the House,” Mr Iqbal said. He also raised objection over a demand saying how the amendments could be referred to Standing Committee when the mover himself was the chairman of that committee.
“Parliament is the solution of the crisis; PM has to answer the Parliament, and it is insult to the House to say this,” said Mian Raza Rabbani referring to the excuse presented by Iqbal, before the combined opposition including PPP, ANP and PML-Q staged protest walkout.
There was rumpus in the House when Zafar Ali Shah of PML-N strongly opposed the passage of amendments. “You are bulldozing,” he said while pointing towards Senate Deputy Chairman Sabir Ali Baloch who was in chair. Criticising MQM he said, “If prime minister did not come in the House for last 22 days, MQM chief also did not come in the country for the last 22 years. If MQM can run without a chief, the House can also run without PM. A woman lawmaker of PPP condemned his remarks.
Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq opined that either a special committee should be formed or time should be given for evolving a consensus. But, referring to the rules, Raza Rabbani said that neither the proposed amendments could be sent to committee nor time be given for consultations because the government had raised the questions after the leave to move the amendments had been granted and the amendment had been taken into consideration. He said that amendments could only be sent to committee at this stage if government had moved an amendment in them.
Earlier, MQM also staged a protest walkout from the House when the chair did not allow Tahir Mashhadi to move for grant of leave for the amendments and said that the mover should wait for his turn. Over this, MQM staged walkout. Mashhadi said the chair was bailing out the government. He said that it was the dignity of the House that PM should answer before it. “I walk out from the House over the injustice shown by chair to my party; injustice has been shown to the House,” he said.
Under the amended Rule 61, by asserting new sub-rule 2A, the prime minister shall whenever possible personally respond to pints raised by members whenever he is present in the house. However, he shall attend the Prime Minister’s Zero Hour at least once in each week when the Senate is in session. It shall be the responsibility of the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip to request/invite the PM to attend Zero Hour and inform all the members of his attendance one day in advance.
Sub-Rules 5 and 6 of Rule 61 had been substituted with the following: “If the prime minister is not present, the minister concerned shall respond to the matter raised under the rule. If both the PM and the minister are not present, the chairman, if deemed necessary, may require the minister to respond to the point raised by the member on a date to be fixed by the chair.” The House also amended Rule 169 that raised the number of members of the Senate House Library Committee from four to six. One of the two additional members would be taken from Fata and other from the Islamabad Capital Territory.