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ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari, Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari cast their votes for National Assembly speaker on Wednesday.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan, Asif Ali Zardari, Shahbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari cast their votes for National Assembly speaker on Wednesday.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Wednesday took control of the National Assembly with the election of its nominees — Asad Qaiser as speaker and Qasim Suri as his deputy — as the party leaders from across the aisle made high-sounding vows to uphold sovereignty of parliament and strive for continuity of democratic process in the country.

Outgoing speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq administered the oath to his successor amid a noisy protest by Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) lawmakers against alleged victimisation of their supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and “rigging” in the July 25 elections.

Led by PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, the party’s MNAs gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and raised full-throated slogans of Wazir-i-Azam [prime minister] Nawaz Sharif, Vote Chor Na Manzoor (vote thieves not acceptable) and Vote Ko Izzat Do (Respect the vote).

Wearing black armbands and carrying posters of Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N members, however, did not get support from the other major opposition party — Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — whose members, including Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, kept on sitting till the time the N-League members ended their protest when the newly-appointed speaker suspended the proceedings for 15 minutes after failing to control the situation.

Asad Qaiser elected speaker & Qasim Suri his deputy; opposition united on votes, divided on protest

The opposition continued its protest throughout the time Mr Sadiq administered oath to Mr Qaiser and not a single word could be heard at the galleries.

Surrounded by a number of party members, PTI chairman and prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan kept on watching the protesting PML-N members -- who were later joined by their comrades from the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) -- without showing any reaction.

It all started when the PTI members interrupted the speech of the PML-N’s Murtaza Javed Abbasi -- who was given floor by Ayaz Sadiq soon after the latter announced the result of the speaker’s election and even before he administered oath to Mr Qaiser -- alleged that the PTI had been given an “artificial mandate”.

Loyalty and betrayal

Though the opposition was divided over the protest, the result of the speaker’s election shows that all the parties in the 11-party grand opposition alliance voted strictly for their candidate Syed Khursheed Shah.

Similarly, none of the parties and the independents who had assured the PTI of their support betrayed their commitment.

The PTI’s Asad Qaiser obtained 176 votes against 146 votes of his rival, Khursheed Shah.

Mr Sadiq told the house that the turnout in the speaker’s election was 100 per cent as all 330 MNAs who had taken oath polled their votes. Interestingly, the speaker disclosed that eight votes had been rejected.

On the other hand, in the election of the deputy speaker, it is believed that some of the opposition members from Balochistan voted for PTI nominee Qasim Suri, who bagged 183 votes against 144 secured by the MMA’s Asad Rehman as the candidate of the joint opposition.

PTI chairman Imran Khan had surprised many by nominating the candidates for the top parliamentary offices from smaller provinces. Both Mr Qaiser, who had served as the speaker of the previous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, and Mr Suri who has been elected MNA from Balochistan, have reached the National Assembly for the first time. Some PTI leaders believe that Mr Suri has been ‘rewarded’ because of his victory against political heavyweight and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awani Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai.

The house witnessed an interesting situation when Imran Khan told the assembly secretariat staff that he had forgotten to bring his national identity card which was mandatory for the members to cast their votes. However, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq allowed the PTI chief to cast his vote as “a special case”, saying that since he knew Mr Khan, he could vote.

In their speeches, which the newly-elected speaker allowed before polling for the deputy speaker’s office, the leaders pledged to strengthen democracy in the country and work for betterment of the people.

The opposition members, mainly from the PML-N and the MMA, said that they had come to the parliament only for the sake of democracy and to ensure continuity of democratic process.

In his first speech as MNA, Mr Sadiq mostly targeted the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), alleging that it had failed to play its due role in the elections despite the fact that all the parties had made it powerful.

“Perhaps, it was our own mistake. We made a wrong selection of the commission,” Mr Sadiq said. “Now they should decide if they want to make ECP accountable or not?”

He said that it was the responsibility of the ECP to train returning officers as the commission had been provided a huge amount of Rs20 billion.

Earlier, while presiding over the proceedings during the speaker’s elections, Mr Sadiq also taunted the ECP through his remarks. Informing the members about the voting process, he said that he would also make sure that the polling agents of the candidates got the signed copies of the Form 45, besides declaring that he would also allow recount of the votes, if any one desired.

Mr Sadiq, a soft-spoken businessman from Lahore, called for unity among the political forces. He recalled the difficult times he had to face during the 126-day sit-in of the PTI and how he had tackled the issue of the resignations submitted by the PTI members at that time.

Khursheed Shah said that he prayed that the present assembly would also complete its five-year term. He assured the treasury that the opposition would not create hurdles in the way of legislation which the government would bring for public welfare.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi of the PTI lauded the PPP’s “democratic behaviuor” and its role in bringing the other agitating opposition parties to the parliament. He said that the PTI government would respect the democratic right of the opposition parties to present their viewpoint on the floor of the house.

The two nationalist leaders from Balochistan – Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party and Shahzain Bugti of Jamhoori Watan Party – spoke about the sufferings of the province and vowed to continue to raise the issues being faced by the people of the country’s largest, but most-backward province.

They said that despite all excesses committed with them, the people of Balochistan always talked about Pakistan.

Mr Bugti said that there was no dual national in the Bugti family and they would live and die in Pakistan.

Earlier, in his brief remarks after his election as speaker, Mr Qaiser “promised” that he would make every effort to meet the expectations of all the parties. He vowed to run the house in consultation with people like former speakers Ayaz Sadiq and Fehmida Mirza, former Senate chairman Muhammedmian Soomro, former president Asif Zardari and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

The speaker again gave the floor to PML-N’s Murtaza Javed Abbasi to complete his speech who protested over the alleged maltreatment of Nawaz Sharif, the thrice-elected prime minister of the country.

Mr Abbasi, who was the deputy speaker of the previous assembly, said that the man who had made the country an atomic power and who eliminated terrorism from the country was brought to the accountability court in an armoured personnel carrier like a terrorist.

Mr Abbasi said that his party had decided to participate in the parliamentary proceedings after the controversial elections only because it wanted to see democracy flourishing in the country. He alleged that the elections had been “stolen” after putting Mr Sharif in jail.

Hitting out at Imran Khan, he said, those who used to curse the parliament were now sitting in the house with the “brigade of votes.”

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018