ISLAMABAD, June 11: What turned out as only a humble defiance of the main opposition party afforded parliament an unusually smooth day of its budget debate on Monday, marked by more praise than criticism of the government.
On the previous six days, the Pakistan Muslim League-N had been boycotting most proceedings or holding noisy protests in the National Assembly but staging only walkouts in the Senate after itself opening the general debate on the budget for fiscal 2012-13 in both houses.
But the party totally boycotted both houses on the seventh day of the debate on Monday and went for a ‘dharna”, or sit-in, near the presidential palace as part of a campaign against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in which it is not supported by smaller opposition parties.
While the “dharna”, joined by PML-N members from both houses of parliament and an estimated over two hundred party workers, proved to be a low-key affair, the move ensured an uninterrupted discussion on the budget presented on June 1.
While PML-N senators did not return to the upper house after their “dharna”, it was towards the fag-end of the proceedings in the National Assembly that a lone PML-N lawmaker came to the house to interrupt the debate by pointing out a perceived lack of quorum.
But the member, Chaudhry Saud Majeed from Bahawalpur, made a humiliating retreat from the house even before Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi declared the house “in order” after a count of members.
The party has used the same member for several days to come to the house only to use his right to raise a “point or order” for a count to see if 342-seat house has the required quorum of 86 members while all other members of his own party stayed put in an adjoining rest lounge. Though the tactic forced suspension of proceedings on a few previous occasions, his all three attempts failed on the previous day of the debate on Friday, prompting protests from the treasury benches against what one minister called a “bad parliamentary practice”.
The PML-N protest, aimed to force the prime minister to resign as a consequence of his April 26 conviction by a Supreme Court bench for contempt of court, has prompted speculation about the efficacy of the move and staying away from the debate on what is the last budget of the present government ahead of general election due next year.
Despite a declared boycott on Monday, some PML-N members of the National Assembly, including opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, were briefly seen quietly passing through the house from their lounge to join the party protesters already gathered outside the parliament house.
Members of the Pakistan People’s Party and allied parties praised political achievements of the coalition government but pointed to a perceived economic slide and problems like energy shortages.