ISLAMABAD, June 7: As some crude opposition tactics to disrupt the budget debate in the National Assembly boomeranged on Thursday, the ruling coalition got both bouquets and brickbats from its own ranks.
Boycotting the debate for the third day running on Monday, the protesting Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) made a fun of itself as all its three attempts to get the house proceedings suspended for a perceived lack of quorum failed and recoiled, prompting boos from the treasury benches.
This embarrassment to the largest opposition party in its campaign against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contrast with two suspensions it forced on Wednesday seemed to be the result of some better management of the house, which was found in order each time a PML-N member claimed lack of the required quorum of 86 members in the 342-seat house.
And then the government used a trick of technology to foil the PML-N members when they once tried their usual disruptive method of crowding about the dais and chanting slogan like ‘go Gilani, go’.
After some 40-plus members of the largest, 90-seat opposition party stormed into the house and began slogan-chanting from the steps of the dais to interrupt PPP’s Syed Akhonzada Chittan, the volume of the mike on the desk of the member from the Bajaur tribal area suddenly went up, apparently by a turn of a switch in the control room of the house sound system, enabling his high pitch to out-shout the protesters and make their slogans hardly intelligible in the galleries.
The new trick followed the experience of opposition shouting drowning out speeches from the treasury benches, including one by Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh when he presented the budget for fiscal 2012-13 on Friday and those of Textile Industry Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin and minister in charge of the Benazir Income Support Programme Farzana Raja on Tuesday.
The absence of the PML-N, whose present protest campaign to force the prime minister to resign as a consequence of his conviction for contempt of court by a Supreme Court bench is not supported by smaller opposition parties and groups, left it mainly to members of the PPP or its allies to praise or criticise government policies and proposals for the new budget, which is to be passed later this month to be effective from July 1.
While the prime minister, whose presence is usually seen as a key to a larger attendance, did not come to the house on Thursday, some ministers, such as PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah and Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zama Kaira, were seen constantly moving in and out in apparent moves to ensure the required quorum on a day when television channels were showing strips of more interesting hearing at the nearby Supreme Court about the fate of a son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in an alleged business scam.
There were some voices of exasperation from the treasury benches at their opponents’ antics, with the PPP chief whip saying they seemed no longer interested in parliament. PML-Q’s senior member and Professional and Technical Training Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada, who termed frequent calls for quorum checks ‘a bad parliamentary practice’, said he would not contest the next election if parliamentary norms and rules were trampled on as now to keep an elected prime minister under siege.
In the budget debate, Shahzada Mohiuddin, a PML-Q member from Chitral, called Prime Minister Gilani a ‘heera’ (jewel) not be lost and said that he would always vote for him irrespective of his own future affiliation of party.
But one of his party colleagues, Kishan Chand Parwani, accused the government of bad economic performance, providing jobs to favourites without merit and failing to protect non-Muslim minorities like Hindus in his home province of Sindh.
PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel, from Karachi, commended the overall performance of the government. He criticised what he described as a failed security operation recently conducted in the city’s Lyari area and called for settling issues there through dialogue rather than gun.
Khawaja Sohail Mansoor of the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement, from Karachi, called for the adoption of a ‘shadow budget’ proposed by his party as a panacea of all economic problems of the country under which all incomes, including those from agriculture, must be taxed.
PPP veteran Zafar Ali Shah from Sindh was unhappy with the performance of the provincial government of his party about which, he said, people were not as enthusiastic as during the lifetime of assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto but would vote for it only because there was no alternative. But the chair cut short his speech to adjourn the house until 11am on Friday.