ISLAMABAD: It had appeared a sure deal to kill a move in the National Assembly to deseat 28 members of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) before apparent intrigues by the party’s political foes on Tuesday put off the issue for two more days, until Thursday.
The fate of two motions tabled by a government ally and an opposition party seeking deseating of the PTI lawmakers, including party chairman Imran Khan, for their long absence from the house – during a 126-day protest sit-in outside the Parliament House – seemed to have been sealed by a statement in the house on Monday by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar that the ruling PML-N would vote against the move if it were put to vote.
But things turned out trickier when the issue came up before the house on Tuesday after a week’s earlier postponement on a government request so it could persuade its ally Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to better withdraw their motions rather than seek a vote.
After renewed appeals from the government and the main opposition PPP to withdraw the motions, both JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and MQM parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar claimed that the government had not consulted them on the issue during the previous week and demanded a postponement for a few more days to decide their stance.
While Mr Dar, who said on Monday that the JUI-F chief had agreed with him to withdraw his party’s motion and that he hoped the MQM would do the same, was not present in the house on Tuesday because of his travel to Dubai to attend a meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
MINISTERS’ DISINTEREST: Other government ministers present in the house did not seem vigorous enough to pursue what Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed had earlier called “my passionate appeal” to the two parties to withdraw the motions.
Nor did any minister press for a vote, which would surely have killed the two motions tabled under Clause (2) of Article 64 of the Constitution that says: “A house may declare the seat of a member vacant if, without leave of the house, he remains absent for forty consecutive days of its sittings.”
And leaders of the two parties, who seemed seeking to avenge the PTI’s attacks against them during the sit-in and elsewhere, also raised some new questions, like Mr Sattar talking of the possibility of seeking a solution through an amendment to the constitution or a PTI request to condone its members’ absence from the house, and Maulana Fazl, at one point later, even angrily questioning the validity of a ruling given by Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq that the PTI men continued to remain members of the house for not individually confirming their resignations from the house submitted at the start of their protest against alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections.
ACHAKZAI WANTS APOLOGY: An important government ally, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai, in effect demanded a PTI apology, saying he would vote for the PTI to stay in the house “if somebody from the party just says ‘sorry’” for the party’s conduct during its agitation.
This suggestion was rejected by the opposition Awami National Party’s parliamentary leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, while citing his own party’s differences with the PTI and saying the PTI’s mere return to the house was enough, and by a volatile independent from Punjab, Jamshed Dasti.
Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a PTI ally, saw in the demand for a further deferment of the issue “a well-planned conspiracy” to damage the party’s image.
PTI BOYCOTT: PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi seemed to have lifted spirits on PTI benches with a hard-hitting speech before leading a party boycott that he said would continue until the house decided the fate of his party members.
He said his party had returned to the house in compliance with a memorandum of understanding signed with the ruling party visualising that the government would resign if the Supreme Court’s three-judge judicial commission that probed the 2013 elections found massive rigging and the PTI would play its role in the house if its allegations were not proved.
Mr Qureshi, who led the party in the house in the absence of Imran Khan, said he didn’t see any justification for any more delay in taking a decision after the finance minister’s statement on Monday and added: “The house must decide this and decide today.”
“Tehreek-i-Insaf doesn’t think it proper to sit in the house while it does not take a decision on its membership,” he said while leading party lawmakers to walk out.
But on the speaker’s urging, the PTI members stayed back for a while to hear Railways Minister Saad Rafique assure them that the government accepted their mandate and “none of us seeks to humiliate anybody”, but complaining of what he called abusive language used against his party outside the house.
It was after a meeting with parliamentary leaders during a break for Zuhar prayer and requests from both the opposition leader and the railways minister for a two-day deferment that the speaker put off the consideration of the two motions until Thursday morning, after which, he said, there would be no room for delay.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2015