Govt calls parliament’s joint sitting tomorrow

• PM meets coalition partners, assures them of redressing their reservations
• PML-Q, MQM still uncertain over supporting bills on poll reforms

ISLAMABAD: The government finally decided to convene a joint sitting of parliament on Wednesday to get controversial bills, including the one on the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), passed.

To gain support for the legislation, Prime Minister Imran Khan convened a meeting of the government allies — Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) — on Monday. However, following the meeting, the coalition partners still remained uncertain about supporting the bills, including those related to EVMs and giving voting rights to over nine million overseas Pakistanis.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, on the other hand, insisted that the government allies had expressed confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Khan and assured him of voting in favour of the bills.

“Reservations of the coalition partners have been removed and the government had unanimously decided to convene a joint session of the parliament on Wednesday,” Mr Chaudhry said at a press conference.

The pending bills, including the one related to electoral reforms, would be presented in the session of the parliament,” he added.

The minister said the leadership of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s allies — Grand Democratic Alliance, Balochistan Awami Party, MQM and PML-Q — had met the prime minister and “expressed full confidence in his leadership”.

Flanked by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs Shehbaz Gill, Fawad Chaudhry said all coalition partners had agreed on holding of the joint sitting of the parliament on Wednesday noon.

Speaking on the occasion, Sheikh Rashid said PM Khan had heard the reservations of the allies and assured them of resolving their concerns.

“The allies have assured the prime minister that they will support all eight or 10 bills to be tabled in the joint sitting of the parliament,” Mr Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, PML-Q Information Secretary Kamil Ali Agha told Dawn that the party leader, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who had attended the meeting at the Prime Minister’s House, had still not decided on whether the Q-League would support the bills.

The PML-Q leaders met in Lahore for two consecutive days (Sunday and Monday) and reached a conclusion that “it will be harmful for the party if it continues to stick with the ruling coalition”, Mr Agha said.

He said the party had reservations about the government’s “faulty” economic policies, unprecedented price hike, sharp increase in the cost of petroleum products, shortage of gas and electricity, increasing corruption and lawlessness in the country.

The MQM leaders also sat together after the meeting with the prime minister.

Giving an impression that the MQM had still not taken a final decision, MQM chief Khalid Maqbool, when contacted, said: “We will talk on the matter after a party meeting.”

The meeting was underway till the filing of this report.

A private TV channel, meanwhile, ran a news quoting Mr Maqbool as saying that MQM’s reservations on the use of EVMs had not been addressed.

Earlier, Fawad Chaudhry said a briefing was given to the MQM and PML-Q delegations on the use of EVMs and it was decided that a joint session would be convened on Wednesday.

Interestingly, on Nov 10, a few hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan urged parliamentarians of the ruling alliance to wage a “Jihad” by voting in favour of legislation in the parliament, the government shelved the joint sitting of the two houses scheduled to get a bill related to EVMs passed.

The information minister had told Dawn that the joint sitting was called off after the coalition partners asked PM Khan to give them a chance to engage with the opposition to seek its support for the legislation.

Meanwhile, speaking on the floor of the National Assembly on Monday, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs Dr Babar Awan said the joint session of the parliament would be held on Wednesday at 12 noon.

“All government allies are on the same page and the decision to convene a joint sitting was made in the meeting of coalition partners chaired by the prime minister,” he said.

Mr Awan was responding to remarks by MNA Asad Mehmood who had questioned the urgency of calling the joint session before Nov 19.

“Let this forum be informed as to why the bills are being presented in the house before Nov 19. Is there any threat of attack from the US, India or any other country,” Mr Mehmood said, adding that the opposition wanted to sit with the government and hold dialogue on controversial bills.

In his reply, Mr Awan called on the opposition to give recommendations which would be incorporated in the bills as amendments.

“Give us your recommendations, we will make amendments. Bu it is your (opposition’s) responsibility to vote on even those bills on which you have not given any recommendation,” he added.