85th Session of Senate: Half of agenda items left unaddressed

ISLAMABAD, September 8, 2012: Protests and walkouts by the opposition parties and coalition partners over petroleum prices and law and order along with low attendance of Senators marked Senate’s 85th session, leaving 52% of the agenda items unaddressed, says a Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) preliminary report on Saturday.

The session lasted 14 hours and 13 minutes for five sittings from 3-7 September, on average meeting two hours and 51 minutes per sitting. Each sitting started with an average delay of 40 minutes.

The allies of the government staged walkouts during the second, third and fifth sittings. ANP walked out of the House over the increase in the prices of petroleum products, the issuance of Sindh People’s Local Government Ordinance 2012 and over unsatisfactory responses to the questions during the Question Hour during the third sitting. During the same sitting, MQM and PML, along with JUIF Senators, also walked out due to the same reason.

The main opposition, PMLN, staged walkouts over the increase in the prices of petroleum products and law and order in the country.

The BNPA and Independents from Balochistan walked out of the fourth sitting as the House did not debate the law and order in Balochistan.

The protests and walkouts disrupted the proceedings and consumed 10% (85 minutes) of the session time.

Since the Senate Secretariat does not make the attendance record public, FAFEN conducts a headcount of Members at the beginning and end of each sitting and documents the actual time spent on the floor of the House by Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition.

On average, only 10 Senators were present at the outset and 15 at the end of each sitting.

The Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition attended the entire session. The Chairman chaired the proceedings for 48% of the session time while the Deputy Chairman presided over 41% of the time. A total of 92 minutes (11%) were consumed by breaks.

The parliamentary leaders of PML and BNPA did not attend the session while the parliamentary leader of ANP attended four, PMLF and MQM three each, and JUIF and NP parliamentary heads attended two sittings each. Although the quorum was visibly lacking at various stages of the session, it was not pointed out by any of the legislators.

Thirty-five points of order consumed 20% of the total session time – 172 of 853 minutes. None of them however attracted the Chair’s formal ruling. Unless the Chair gives a formal ruling on a point of order, it does not lead to any output.

Twelve Senators – three ANP, two each of JUIF, MQM and PPPP, and one each of PMLF, BNPA and PMLN – spoke on the Motion under Rule 218 about law and order in the country for 155 minutes (18% of the session time). While 11 legislators – four PMLN, three ANP and one each of PPPP, JUIF and MQM and an Independent – debated the increase in the prices of petroleum products for 85 minutes (10% of the session time).

Seven resolutions appeared on the agenda, but the House only debated one asking the government to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. However, the House could not conclude the debate and adopt it.

The Minister for Interior made a brief statement on a Calling Attention Notice on the migration of Hindus living in Jacobabad to India due to security reasons.

Only 25 out of 100 starred questions appearing on the orders of the day were taken up and responded to by the relevant minister. Additionally, 61 supplementary questions were also asked by Senators.

About FAFEN: FAFEN is a network of 42 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.