The stage is set for the noisy inaugural session of Pakistan’s National Assembly or the lower house of parliament on 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 elected MPs 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 are they going to protect — the original of 1973 or the one amended by Musharraf,” Nabeel Zafar, a constitutional expert, said.
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 Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), want to take oath under the 1973 constitution.
Media reports say 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) on November 3 till emergency was lifted and the constitution restored on December 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 said.
After the 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 on Wednesday and the new elected speaker will take over charge of the custodian of the house the same day.