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ISLAMABAD: Parliament House once again echoed with the question ‘Where is the prime minister?’ on Monday, as the opposition walked out of both the Senate and National Assembly and announced a boycott of proceedings until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to the house and explained his position over his family’s offshore holdings.

It were Syed Khursheed Shah and Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan — opposition leaders in the National Assembly and Senate, respectively — who announced the boycott.

Speaking on a point of order in the upper house, Mr Ahsan asked cabinet ministers — several of whom were in attendance at the time — to deliver a message to the prime minister: that he should come to parliament to explain his position over the allegations that surfaced in the wake of the Panama leaks.

In the National Assembly, Mr Shah, recalling the days when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf was camped outside parliament, said that this was the same government that had said that all important issues should be discussed on the floor of the house. “Now, when everybody, including the PTI, is here to take up the issue of Panama Papers leaks, the prime minister is missing from the scene,” he said.

Referring to the two televised speeches the PM had made to explain his family’s business concerns, the Pakistan Peoples Party leader reminded the prime minister that parliament was the forum on whose behalf he held the office of the country’s chief executive.

“When the prime minister says he will not come to parliament to explain his position, it’s a serious matter for all of us. If this place loses its respect, things can go either way,” he warned.

However, he reiterated that the opposition was willing to sit with the government to formulate terms of reference for the judicial probe into the Panama Papers which were acceptable to both sides.

PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi also reminisced about his party’s sit-in, saying at the time his leadership was forced to take such a decision because the house didn’t listen to their demands.

“But now we are here, asking our worthy leader of the house to explain his position on the Panama Papers leaks. Alas! The most important chair in the National Assembly continues to remain vacant,” he said, referring to the prime minister’s chair.

He underlined the gravity of Panamagate, saying the issue would continue to resonate until it was addressed by the prime minister himself. “If British Prime Minister David Cameron can explain his father’s offshore company [before the House of Commons] for two and a half hours, why can’t our prime minister?”

Sheikh Rashid also wanted to speak, but Fata MNA Shahjee Gul Afridi was allowed to make an intervention regarding the plight of protesting Fata teachers and walked out to protest government apathy on the issue and was also joined by opposition members.

Although Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada was asked by the speaker to bring the opposition back, he returned to inform the house that they were not willing to return.

Upper house

In the Senate, Aitzaz Ahsan asked the prime minister to present details of the income tax paid by him and his family members, starting from the time he became Punjab chief minister in 1985, as well as details of assets owned by him and his family members, both inside and outside the country.

Saying that these allegations were not levelled by the opposition, he maintained that by laying this information before the house, the prime minister could bring the whole nation out of this confusion over the Panama leaks.

In a reference to the recent arrest of the Balochistan finance secretary, he said that while the person from whose house the Rs70 billion was recovered had been arrested, no action was initiated against those who had it placed there in the first place.

All opposition members, except the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, then staged a walkout from the house. They were also accompanied by members of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, which is a part of the ruling coalition.

Later, responding to Mr Ahsan’s speech, Pakistan Muslim Leaguq-Nawaz’s parliamentary leader Mushahidullah Khan lashed out at the opposition for ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’.

Mr Khan said the Panama Papers only contained the names of the prime minister’s children, who were ready to face an inquiry at any forum, adding that the prime minister would come to parliament when he wanted to.

Ms Khan said that more and more names were surfacing in connection with the Panama Papers, including opposition financiers such as Jahangir Tareen, Aleem Khan and Rehman Malik among others. Such issues, he said, were settled at a legal forum and not in parliament.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2016