ISLAMABAD: President Dr. Arif Alvi on Friday set a precedent by canceling a scheduled session of the National Assembly without any official announcement, generating controversy and a debate among political circles. The opposition termed the postponement a “bid to block an opportunity for Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif to avoid a possible arrest in an alleged corruption case in Lahore on the ground of attending the NA session”. However, a source told Dawn that since the government wanted to promulgate some ordinances (an authority vested in the president), the session had been shelved. Presently, the Senate is also not in session, and an ordinance is promulgated by the president when neither house of parliament is in session.
Shehbaz Sharif was to appear before a special court in Lahore on Friday — the same day a session of the lower house of parliament had been called — for his indictment in a money laundering case registered by the Federal Investigation Agency. The court deferred the indictment, though. A spokesperson for the Presidency said notification for summoning the NA session on Feb 18 was issued on Feb 14. However, he agreed that the postponement had not been notified. He said a summary for summoning and postponement of an NA session is initiated by the law ministry.
The source further said some senior leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) put their heads together at National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser’s residence on Thursday night and decided to have Friday’s session shelved. They believed that PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz were supposed to be indicted — and possibly arrested — the same day by a Lahore court and should not be given an opportunity to seek an adjournment on the pretext of attending the NA session.
Interestingly, no new date was announced for holding the postponed session of the lower house of parliament. Shehbaz Sharif, after finding out about the postponement, told the media outside the special court in Lahore that the NA session had been put off as the government was hoping he would be indicted on Feb 18. He alleged that the government was using parliament for its vested interests, destroying constitutional norms. It was unprecedented that a scheduled session of the NA had been shelved in such a manner without any notification, he remarked.
On the other hand, sources in the NA Secretariat claimed that they had not received the summons from the Presidency for holding the NA session on Friday. “The National Assembly Secretariat had not made any arrangements for a session today,” the source said, adding that they had not even prepared an agenda for a supposed session. Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Russia on Feb 23 was one of the reasons for the postponement of the NA session.
In reply to a question, he rejected the claim by Shehbaz Sharif that the session was called off so that the PML-N leader could not get any relief from the court on the ground of a session of the lower house. Under Article 54(1) of the Constitution, the president has the authority to “summon either House or both Houses of [Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament)] in joint sitting to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit and may also prorogue the same”.