ISLAMABAD, Sept 7: In outbursts of anger among allies, a key party in the PPP-led coalition government began a boycott of parliament on Friday to oppose a new decree on local government enforced in Sindh Awami National Party (ANP) lawmakers walked out of both the National Assembly and Senate at the start of the proceedings of the two houses in what they called a boycott for the remainder of their current sessions, before the only minister of their party resigned from the Sindh provincial cabinet to protest against the provincial ordinance agreed between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the allied-Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) as a revised law to govern local government institutions in the province.
Opposition to the People’s Metropolitan Corporation Ordinance was also voiced by the PPP’s main ally in the federal cabinet, Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) but it did not join the ANP walkout. But the two parties did not seem intent to carry their protest too far to pose any danger to the coalition government during the remaining six months of its five-year term while the PPP seemed confident to pacify the protesters.
The ANP’s elderly lawmaker Pervaiz Khan said the new ordinance, which provides for metropolitan corporations for the five-district Karachi and four other cities and district councils for other districts of the province, would divide the political power of Sindh and accused the PPP, which has an absolute majority in the provincial assembly, of agreeing to the new law to appease just one party – meaning the MQM – before leading his party members out of the National Assembly while Senator Haji Mohammad Adeel led the party walkout in the Senate.
The PPP chief whip in the National Assembly and Religious Affairs Minister, Khurshid Ahmed Shah, dismissed ANP’s fears and advised the coalition party against taking a “sentimental decision”.
Mr Shah was backed by MQM’s Wasim Akhtar who said the ordinance had been promulgated after prolonged and patient consultations.
PML-Q’s senior member and a former minister, Ghous Bakhsh Khan Mahar, said his party was also not consulted about the ordinance, prompting a reply from Mr Shah that the provincial leaderships of the PML-Q and the PML-F were consulted.
SHAIKH UNDER FIRE: As if the boycott and criticism of allies over the Sindh ordinance was not enough, the government was in for more embarrassment at the start of the question hour when the chair and a senior federal minister censured the finance minister in absentia for his allegedly frequent absence from the National Assembly.
Neither Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh nor any parliamentary secretary was present to answer questions about his ministry – which has no minister of state – provoking a stinging rebuke from Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi who chaired the proceedings.
There was no manifestation of sympathy on the treasury benches for Senator Shaikh, who has also been the finance minister in the previous Musharraf government and is apparently considered an outsider by senior party loyalists.
While Mr Kundi threatened to take up the issue of ministerial absences from the house with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Mr Shah, the PPP chief whip, described the finance minister’s absence as being “tantamount to irresponsibility” and said: “Ministers who don’t give importance to parliament should go home”. And, in an apparent reference to Mr Shaikh’s previous assignments abroad, added: “They may get higher salaries from foreign organisations”.
Mr Kundi said the question of ministerial absences and the usually delayed start of the sittings of the National Assembly – which met for the day late by an hour – would be considered by a meeting of the house advisory committee to be held before the start of the sitting on Monday.
As several members spoke on points of order while house skipped for the second day running an inconclusive debate on the law and order situation in the country, Maulana Ataur Rehman of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam reminded lawmakers of this day being the anniversary of a 1974 amendment to the constitution by the then National Assembly that declared Ahmedia, or Qadiani community outside the pale of Islam.
Pointing out that a PPP government, headed by prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, ruled the country at the time of that amendment, he said the present PPP government should take cognizance of and counter what he called a new move by the Qadiani community to pose themselves as Muslims by building mosque-like minarets at their places of worship “lest the people themselves take any action”.
But there was no government response on the point.