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Tame opposition sits back as budget session begins

June 18, 2013

KARACHI, June 17: The Sindh Assembly’s budget session on Monday witnessed smooth sailing as there was no interruption of the proceedings by a somewhat tame opposition.The session started an hour behind schedule and most people in the packed visitors’ and journalists’ galleries were surprised to see the insignificant presence of lawmakers belonging to the main opposition party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The MQM members were only five or six. However, MQM leaders said they had sent some eight to 10 legislators to represent the party.

Khawaja Izharul Hasan, MQM’s deputy parliamentary leader in the provincial assembly, later told Dawn that their meagre participation in the session was because of “an important party meeting” which coincided with the assembly session.

“We had sent some eight to 10 MPAs to attend the session and represent the party because it coincided with a highly important party meeting to discuss the PPP offer to join the provincial government,” said Mr Hasan.

The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party’s leaders had recently visited the MQM headquarters, 90-Azizabad, inviting the party to join the provincial government.

The MQM’s meeting, however, later decided to go for a ‘people’s referendum’ to deicide about the offer.

PPP’s Sharmila Farooqi, who is among the new entrants in the provincial assembly, was the first to enter the house followed by her party colleagues and then MPAs belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-Functional and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

As the session started, several members from the treasury and opposition rose in their seats and condemned the twin suicide attacks in Quetta and another on the Ziarat Residency, where the Quaid spent the last days of his life.

Later, Fateha was offered for the Quetta attacks victims.

Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani administered the oath to the PTI’s Seemi Zia, MQM’s Waqar Shah and Amir Haider Shirazi of Thatta.

Several heavyweights were present in the house, including PPP’s Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, Manzoor Wassan and Nisar Khuhro; PML-N’s Irfanullah Marwat and PML-F’s Imtiaz Shaikh. The new PTI foursome were being led by MPA Hafeezuddin.

Former chief minister and PML-N stalwart Arbab Ghulam Rahim was not seen in the house reminding many of his absence for five years during the previous PPP government.

The chair did not allow Mr Marwat, who wanted to speak on a point of order, reminding him that no other business could be taken during a budget session.

PML-F’s Nusrat Seher Abbasi was angry over a ‘false news’ report in a local newspaper about the death of close relatives of a PPP leader. The house patiently heard the lengthy budget speech by the chief minister. A dominant majority of the PPP MPAs kept thumping the desks whenever Mr Shah spoke of the Bhuttos or new schemes the government was going to launch.

The house resonated with applause when the chief minister announced a raise in salaries of government employees – 15 per cent for the employees in grades one to 15 and 10 per cent for those in grades 16 and above. He also raised the minimum pension from Rs3,000 to Rs5,000.

Mr Shah briefly looked towards the MQM seats while reading out the law and order portion of his speech, particularly when he said: “I assure you that they [militants] will never be successful as we stand united and firm against them.”

A PPP lawmaker later interpreted the quick look as aimed at seeking the MQM appreciation because the party had been outspoken against the militants.

Mr Shah’s reconciliatory tone corroborated the impression that Sindh was not going to wage a war against the PML-N-ruled Centre.

“It is our desire to work in close coordination with the federal government in the larger interest of the people of Pakistan. We expect that the federal government will support us in all our endeavours,” said Mr Shah.

Earlier, two MQM MPAs condemned the targeted killing of their workers. They particularly spoke of party activist Mohammad Asif, who went missing over a month back and later his body was found in Steel Town.

Several members complained that they had not been provided with the Urdu and Sindhi versions of the budget speech. They were told that it happened because of some ‘glitches’ in the finance department.