Allies agree to support four new bills
Syed Irfan Raza
ISLAMABAD: Parties in the ruling coalition vowed on Friday to ensure smooth passage from parliament of four important bills apparently aimed at protecting the government from Supreme Court’s action.
The pledge was made by PPP’s allies at a meeting jointly presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
The bills relate to contempt of court, dual nationality, increase in pension of judges and validation of actions and decisions taken by former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani after his conviction in the contempt case.
The appointment of a new chief election commissioner also came under discussion.
The President’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said Law Minister Farook H. Naek had briefed the meeting on legislative measures proposed to be placed before the National Assembly and the Senate during the current session.
Inside sources said some leaders of parties in the ruling coalition had expressed concern over the bills, but later agreed to support them. “Coalition partners reiterated their support for the government,” the spokesman said.
CONTEMPT OF COURT BILL: Mr Naek said one legislative measure was enacting of a law relating to contempt of court. He was quoted as saying: “The proposed contempt law is a blend of the powers of the court to punish for its contempt with the right of citizens in a democracy for fair comments and criticism.”
He explained that the proposed law provided for punishment for contempt as well as full opportunity to the accused for a fair trial, including transparent procedures for right to appeal. He said the right to appeal was being streamlined in the bill.
The bill is likely to be approved by the National Assembly and the Senate before July 12 – the Supreme Court’s deadline for the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen money-laundering cases against President Zardari.
The Contempt of Court Act 2012, which the government intends to get passed from the coming session of the two houses of parliament, provides blanket immunity to top government functionaries for their executive actions. It can also be used for initiating disciplinary proceedings against a judge, without fearing that the move may come under the ambit of contempt.
The bill is obviously aimed at avoiding a situation in which Prime Minister Ashraf may face a similar contempt of court like his predecessor did for not writing the letter to Swiss authorities.
DUAL NATIONALITY BILL: “The 22nd constitutional amendment seeks to remove impediments in the way of Pakistanis holding dual nationality/ citizenship from contesting election to parliament,” the law minister said.
He said a number of countries in the world allowed their citizens to hold dual nationality and the Pakistan Citizenship Act also permitted it.
The bill is aimed at allowing voting and participation in elections for Pakistanis holding dual nationality. It will benefit parliamentarians of the ruling coalition with dual nationality.
The Supreme Court has disqualified a number of parliamentarians for holding dual passport. The government had to make Interior Minister Rehman Malik an adviser after his disqualification by the court.
GILANI’S DECISIONS: The law minister said the fourth legislative measure was an ordinance which would be placed before the National Assembly to validate acts, orders and decisions taken and issued from April 26 to June 19 by the former prime minister.
The Supreme Court order dated June 19, 2012, and the notification of the Election Commission are retrospective from April 26, 2012, when Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified as member of the National Assembly and ceased to be prime minister.
Mr Naek said it was necessary that acts and orders issued by the prime minister from April 26 to June 19 were given protection and validity to avoid legal complications.
JUDGES’ PENSION: The law minister briefed the meeting on the rationale and background of proposed legislative measures which had already been approved by the cabinet. He said a constitutional amendment bill, called the 21st constitutional amendment bill, will be placed before the National Assembly to increase the pension amount for widows of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.
The meeting was attended by former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Senator Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel, Senator Afrasiab Khattak, Dr Farooq Sattar, Dr Nadeem Ahsan, Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri, Senator Abbas Khan Afridi and Munir Khan Orakzai.