Pakistani MPs’ ‘constitutional dilemma’ as session begins Monday

March 16th, 2008 - 10:34 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, March 16 (IANS) The stage is set for the noisy inaugural session of Pakistan’s National Assembly or the lower house of parliament Monday with a shouting match expected between pro- and anti-Musharraf parliamentarians, particularly on the issue of taking oath under the amended constitution. President Pervez Musharraf, after overthrowing the elected government of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, amended the constitution and now the parliamentarians may have to take oath showing allegiance to the present constitution.

The president has called the parliament session for Monday in which the MPs-elect will be sworn in. The session will be prorogued soon after the swearing in and it will meet again Wednesday to elect the speaker and the deputy speaker.

When parliamentarians take oath, they swear to protect the constitution. “Now the question is which constitution they are going to protect, the original of 1973 or the one amended by Musharraf,” Nabeel Zafar, a constitutional expert, told IANS.

He argues that the amended constitution has been approved by parliament and “definitely the parliamentarians are going to take oath under this constitution, whether they like it or not.”

But several MPs in the top two parties, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), want to take oath under the 1973 constitution.

Media reports say that the law ministry has published copies of the constitution containing all actions taken by Musharraf from the declaration of the emergency rule and the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) Nov 3 till emergency was lifted and the constitution restored Dec 15.

The new constitution printed by the government protects the PCO giving a legal cover to Musharraf’s imposition of emergency, suspension of judges, his election as president and several other steps that the PPP and PML-N term illegal.

The same issue was raised in the 2002 inaugural session of the parliament in which majority members sided with Musharraf. But the situation now is entirely different with majority against him.

Under the parliamentary tradition, the oath will be administered by outgoing speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain who belongs to Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), a party loyal to Musharraf.

“The oath will be administered under the 1973 constitution and there should be no doubt to any one,” Hussain told IANS.

After the oath-taking ceremony the session would be prorogued till March 19. Nomination papers for the post of the speaker would be received on March 18, Hussain said.

Polling for the post would be held through secret ballot Wednesday and the new elected speaker will take over charge of the custodian of the house the same day.

He said the election of the deputy speaker would be conducted by the newly elected speaker. Then the session would be prorogued sine die. However, it can be called again within a day or two, he added.

Meanwhile, the chiefs of the top three political parties will have to be content viewing the parliament proceedings from the visitors’ gallery as none of them is a member of the house.

PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N head Nawaz Sharif did not contest the Feb 18 polls while PML-Q head Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain lost the elections.

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