A peep into NA Speaker Dr Fehmida's mind

A debate has been going on in the country about the constitutionality of Prime Minister Gilani’s stay in office even after the April 26th judgment of the Supreme Court, which gave reasons for convicting the Pir of Multan in a contempt case. While some parties think that there is no justification for him to cling to power after being sentenced, others think that it is for the National Assembly Speaker to decide whether a reference should be sent against him to have him unseated. Now everyone is waiting for the Speaker’s decision.The daughter of the late Qazi Abdul Majeed Abid and wife of the former Sindh home minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza, Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza gave an interview to a TV channel on Monday and answered many questions about the situation. Although she was very careful in her answers, what she said leads one to believe that she will not stay neutral while deciding the prime minister’s fate and will pursue the line given by the ruling PPP. Many argue that after the Supreme Court’s guilty verdict, the prime minister automatically stands disqualified as a member of parliament. However, there are others who say that even after being convicted by the apex court, the prime minister has the right to file an appeal and if that too is dismissed it is for the Speaker to send a reference against him to the Chief Election Commissioner within 30 days. There are strong differences on whether it is mandatory for the Speaker to send the reference. All those belonging to the ruling party say that if the Speaker, after applying her mind, concludes that no question of the prime minister’s disqualification arises, the matter will come to an end.  In other words, this school of thought believes the conviction and sentencing of the prime minister will be of no consequence.Many constitutional experts insist that after the court verdict, the NA Speaker’s role is no more than that of a post office and she is duty-bound to send a reference against the chief executive of the country.In her interview, Dr Fehmida said it is not right to say that her role is that of a post office. Had it been so, the Constitution would not have given her 30 days to apply her mind on the subject. This means, she will use the period allowed to her by the basic law. And while the process goes on, Mr Gilani will stay in the driving seat. She deliberately did not explain when the 30-day period started or would end. She said experts had differing views on the subject, but she wouldn’t give her own opinion. This ambiguity would also benefit the prime minister. The Speaker was also asked whether it was the parliament which was supreme to the Constitution, or vice versa. In a rather longish answer, she recalled that she had already given a ruling that the parliament was supreme. Such a viewpoint in the prevailing situation would go in Gilani’s favour as the ruling coalition may take any decision on account of its majority in both houses of parliament. Similarly, the NA Speaker made it clear that although it was the Supreme Court’s right to interpret the Constitution, the parliament also has a role to play.The assertion means that the Speaker doesn’t keep out the lawmakers from what is generally believed to be the judiciary’s domain. Many objections were raised when the National Assembly passed a resolution in support of the convicted prime minister. Some thought it amounted to a contempt of court by all those who had taken part in the exercise.However, the NA Speaker came up with a quite different point of view.She told the interviewer that the resolution had been moved and passed according to the rules and regulations. She, however, clarified that she was not presiding over the session when the resolution was moved.This again goes in Mr Gilani’s favour, who himself has been criticizing the judiciary since the day he was held guilty.When she was asked to comment on the prime minister’s statement in the house that he would accept only the Speaker’s verdict (not that of the court), Dr Mirza said he should not have said this.But then gave him the benefit of the doubt, saying: “Perhaps he was trying to educate the people”.The custodian of the house did not feel embarrassed when told that drone attacks were continuing despite the unanimous resolutions passed by the supreme legislature. She argued that the government doesn’t have a magic wand to get the attacks halted. She indicated as if any aggressive move against the drones could lead to a war against the United States.Needless to remind that the Speaker is supposed to be impartial while discharging his/her duties. Despite belonging to the ruling party, the Speaker doesn’t act like the spokesperson of those who had elected him/her. The answers of Dr Fehmida fully show to what extent she is (im)partial. Does the government need anyone else to defend its policies? Don’t these answers show the kind of ruling that can be expected in support of the prime minister? 

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