ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan stunned both allies and critics when he announced his party’s intention to boycott Wednesday’s joint sitting of parliament.
Mr Khan, who has been stepping up his rhetoric against the prime minister in the wake of the Panama Papers leaks, told a press conference on Tuesday that his party members would not attend any sessions of parliament until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigned or presented himself for accountability as per the opposition’s proposed terms of reference (ToR) for investigation into the Panamagate scandal.
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Party insiders told Dawn that while most PTI parliamentarians wanted to stay put in Parliament House to fight their case, the party chairman — supported by a group of unelected party leaders — decided otherwise.
“After the Panama Papers revelations the prime minister has lost the moral authority to hold office... I don’t accept him as the prime minister anymore,” Mr Khan roared from outside his Bani Gala residence following a three-hour huddle with his party leaders.
PTI internal meeting split on wisdom of boycott at this point
In the meeting, a PTI lawmaker told Dawn, both sides argued intensely. Those supporting continued presence in parliament were of the view that the move would only invite a hostile reaction, both from the media and the general public.
However, Mr Khan and his supporters argued that the iron was hot in terms of the probe into the Panama Papers leaks and wanted to exert maximum pressure without any concern for media perception or other factors.
Mr Khan said that his party had unequivocally put its weight behind the government as far its stance on Kashmir and the ongoing tensions on the Line of Control was concerned when they took part in Monday’s multi-party conference. “Attending the joint sitting would denote that I endorse Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, which I don’t. I believe he has lost the moral authority,” he argued.
Talking about the party’s proposed plan to lay siege to Islamabad if the prime minister continued to resist accountability, Mr Khan said he had convened a special meeting of the PTI’s entire leadership on Thursday to deliberate on a future course of action.
The main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was left flabbergasted by the PTI announcement, with Qamar Zaman Kaira calling Imran Khan’s logic “incomprehensible”.
Talking to reporters after a party meeting chaired by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Islamabad, the PPP information secretary said that while his party believed the PTI’s demands were justified, there was no justification for a complete boycott of the assembly.
Flanked by leaders of the opposition in the National Assembly and Senate, Mr Kaira said it was surprising that the PTI did not raise the question of the prime minister’s legitimacy when its representatives attended the meeting of parliamentary leaders on Monday, or when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak had attended a meeting on NAP earlier in the day.
It was strange that the question of legitimacy was being raised ahead of a joint sitting of parliament, where the government could be made answerable on every issue, including Panamagate, he said.
The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), PTI’s junior partner in the KP coalition government, was also astonished by the decision.
“One fails to comprehend the logic of the decision… the party attended the parliamentary leaders’ huddle on the personal invitation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but is refusing to join the joint session that was demanded by the opposition itself,” JI general secretary Liaquat Baloch said.
He argued that at a time when the country was facing aggressive Indian designs, the session was aimed at expressing unanimity against external dangers and forming a national line of action to counter it. Boycotting the session will surely depict weakness, he added.
Indirectly supporting the PTI stance, the PML-Q said it saw no need for the joint session.
“When leaders of all parliamentary parties have assured their support to the government for the national [Kashmir] cause, there is no need to convene a joint session and incur huge expenses,” PML-Q information secretary Senator Kamil Ali Agha said.
Amir Wasim in Islamabad and Amjad Mahmood in Lahore also contributed to this report.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2016