By Raja Asghar
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani acknowledged in the National Assembly on Tuesday that an ordinance enforced last week to create mobile courts for summary trials was ill-timed and said he was giving his mandatory advice to President Asif Ali Zardari to withdraw the controversial decree before it is brought to parliament.
But the rare retreat of the type, which came amid widespread criticism of the ordinance when the 11-month-old PPP-led coalition government already faced a political turmoil over the imposition of governor’s rule in the Punjab province, failed to end a protest walkout by law-makers of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
An announcement from the presidential palace later at night said the president had withdrawn the ordinance, though Labour and Manpower Minister Khurushid Ahmed Shah said on a private television channel that the decree could be reissued after the conclusion of the present National Assembly session that began on Saturday.
The presidential ordinance, seeking to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to provide for the appointment of magistrates to try some types of offences ‘in a summary way’, was dated Feb 27 but was issued to the media on Sunday (March 1) —two days after the National Assembly was called to session mainly to discuss the imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab on Feb 25 after a Supreme Court ruling disqualified provincial chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and his elder brother and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif from holding any elective office.
An ordinance, which needs approval by the two houses of parliament to become a permanent law, cannot be issued while the National Assembly is in session.
The publication of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Ordinance on Sunday raised eyebrows about the timing of the move and sparked protests from critics who saw it as a tactic to counter a lawyers’ march planned to begin on March 12 from various cities of the country and culminate in a massive sit-in outside parliament in Islamabad tentatively on March 16 to press for the restoration of all superior court judges sacked by former president Pervez Musharraf under his controversial Nov 3, 2007 emergency proclamation.
Prime Minister Gilani said the confusion happened because the date of the ordinance was also the day he called an emergency meeting of his cabinet that decided to call a National Assembly session the next day to discuss the Punjab situation.
Apparently admitting that the timing of the ordinance was not appropriate he said: ‘I don’t want the sovereignty of the house to affected and, therefore, we are withdrawing the ordinance. I advise the president to withdraw it,’ he added amid some desk-thumping cheers even from both the treasury and opposition benches.
But the comparative amiability, after noisy protests on the first day of the session on Saturday, proved short-lived as the PML-N members marched out of the house after a hard-hitting speech by their parliamentary leader Khwaja Mohammad Asif to continue their protest against the disqualification ruling of a three-judge bench against the two Sharif brothers and the president’s imposition of governor’s rule in the Punjab for two months that meant the dissolution of the PML-N-led provincial coalition government.
Several members of the treasury benches, including ministers, went to a members’ lounge to persuade the PML-N members to end their walkout but failed to bring them back until the house was adjourned till 4pm on Thursday after a further dressing down of the government by Pakistan Muslim League-Q parliamentary leader Faisal Saleh Hayat mainly for allegedly broken commitments and an unexpected lament from Munir Khan Orakzai, the group leader of members from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, who demanded that Punjab governor Salman Taseer, Interior Adviser Rehman Malik and the Punjab police chief resign from their offices for a perceived security lapse in Lahore on Tuesday during a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers.
CALL FOR CO-EXISTENCE: Khawja Asif accused the present authorities in the Punjab of trying to create conditions and cause blood to provide a justification for what he called a ‘prolonged rule (there) by the president’ though he ended his speech with a call for ‘keeping alive the spirit of the process of co-existence’ started after the Feb 18, 2008 general election.
He saw the governor’s rule as part of a rulers’ aim to achieve a ‘grand slam by conquering Punjab’ but said the people of the province would not allow this to happen as his party still enjoyed the support of a majority in the provincial assembly.
Mr Hayat, who defected the PPP after being elected on its ticket in the 2002 election, said the PML-Q was not interested in playing a decisive role in the present confrontation between the PPP and the PML-N but saw the present position of Mr Gilani’s coalition as a far cry from his election as prime minister in March last year with a big majority followed by a unanimous vote of confidence because it did not fulfil its commitments.
Several members also condemned the gunmen’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, which the prime minister said had caused a humiliation of Pakistan.