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LAHORE, June 1: The oath-taking ceremony at the sixteenth house of the Punjab Assembly on Saturday proved a festive occasion and one with many firsts. As many as 341 members took oath of their office.

The total strength of the house is 371 but notifications of election of seven candidates against reserved seats for women and five others have been withheld by the Election Commission of Pakistan, while the remaining seats are vacant as some candidates had contested and won from more than one seat.

By-polls will be held to the seats to be vacated by these candidates after retaining their preferred constituencies. Around 245 of the elected members are new faces.

The house is going to write a new chapter of history as for the first time two couples took oath of their office as MPAs. They are Zaeem Qadri and Uzma Qadri, and Aijaz Ajlana and Farhana Ajlana.

Sardar Ramesh Singh has been returned to the assembly on PML-N’s minority reserved quota. Sardar Ramesh is the first Sikh who has been honoured to be part of the Punjab Assembly since 1947.

The assembly premises wore a festive look as the MPAs-elect came to the house with pomp. Some of them came with their supporters dancing to the tunes of drums. Flower petals were also showered on them at the assembly entrance.

Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal administered oath to all members including himself. He also administered oath to the four latecomers after which the members signed the Oath Register.

As PML-N Punjab chief Shahbaz Sharif stepped on the floor of the house for taking oath, the PML-N supporters chanted slogans – “Dekho Dekho Kon Aaya – Shair Aya, Shair Aya” and “Ik wari phair – Shair”.

Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Moonis Elahi retained PP-161 and PP-110 seats, respectively.

The assembly secretary announced a panel of chairmen comprising Rana Mashhood (PP-149), Malik Nadeem Kamran (PP-221), Ayesha Javed (W-317) and Mian Muhammad Aslam (PP-148). He also announced that the Punjab Assembly speaker and deputy speaker’s elections would be held through secret ballot on Monday evening.

The aspiring candidates can submit their nomination papers to the PA secretary till 5pm on Sunday (today). The speaker adjourned the house till 11am on Monday (June 3).

The PTI has fielded Raja Rashid Hafeez as party candidate for PA speaker and allied party PML-Q’s Waqas Hassan Moakal as deputy speaker candidate.

PTI parliamentary leader Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed told Dawn that the PTI, along with its allies including PML-Q and Jamaat-i-Islami, would act as an effective opposition and ensure protection of the masses’ interests. He said the PTI would keep its focus on education and health issues in Punjab.

He said the party would stress the need to increase education and health budgets. He said the law and order situation in Punjab was not exemplary and needed to be improved by taking out-of-box initiatives.

PML-Q Parliamentary Leader in the Punjab Assembly Moonis Elahi said his party would support the PTI nominees for chief minister and speaker in the Punjab Assembly. In return the PTI would support PML-Q’s Waqas Hassan Moakal for deputy speaker, he told the media outside the Punjab Assembly.

Moonis said deliberations for a united opposition were in progress and the parties would reach a decision in due course of time. He said the PML-N had made tall claims during its election campaign and now time had come that it should fulfill its promises otherwise the masses would reject it in the next election.

The PML-Q leader said the PML-N must overcome the energy crisis in the country and stop drone attacks against innocent citizens. He said the PML-Q would play the role of a strong opposition inside and outside the assembly.

Regarding a weak opposition in the Punjab Assembly, he said Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had achieved a similar majority in the 70’s but the opposition had played a robust role even then.