• Gets 176 votes against 96 received by PML-N chief
• Ruckus forces NA speaker to suspend proceedings for 15 minutes
• New PM vows to carry out strict accountability
• Will take oath at President House today
ISLAMABAD: Elected by the 15th National Assembly on Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to carry out “strict” accountability in the country and ruled out any deal with the corrupt, offering “cooperation” to the opposition parties in their quest to prove charges of poll rigging before the Supreme Court or the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The historic second democratic transition after the five-year term of the previous government was, however, marred by noisy protests of the opposition members of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and cheering by scores of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporters who tried to storm into the house galleries, including the press gallery.
In his victory speech to a packed house amidst an unprecedented and prolonged protest by the PML-N members, a besieged Mr Khan adopted an aggressive posture and even challenged the opposition to dare hold a 126-day sit-in like the one the PTI had staged in 2014 against the alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections. “Make noise as much you can. Come out on streets and stage a sit-in. No one can blackmail me and no one will be able to do that,” said Mr Khan to the protesting opposition members.
As soon as NA Speaker Asad Qaiser announced that the cricketer-turned-politician had secured 176 votes to be elected as the country’s 22nd prime minister, the assembly gave a look of a stadium with noisy sloganeering from the visitors’ galleries, which were packed with PTI workers and supporters. Sloganeering by supporters of the PTI and the opposition PML-N was so intense that no one could hear Speaker Qaiser’s voice when he declared that Shahbaz Sharif had bagged 96 votes through the parliamentary mode of open division — by recording one’s preference in a register placed in different lobbies rather than by secret ballot.
Besides 151 votes of his own party, Mr Khan also received votes from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Balochistan National Party (BNP), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid and one-man parties — Awami Muslim League and Jamhoori Watan Party.
However, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) members as announced earlier abstained from the voting following the PML-N refusal to replace their candidate for the PM office. The PPP members also distanced themselves from the PML-N’s protest despite having the same complaints of pre- and post-poll rigging about the general elections. The PPP refused to vote for Mr Shahbaz despite agreeing on a formula during a multi-party conference, citing the reason that they could not vote for a person who had used derogatory language against their leadership in the recent past.
Also, the one-member Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) announced to abstain from voting. However, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) — the main component of the 15-member Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) — voted for Mr Sharif as per their commitment.
Wearing black armbands, the PML-N members gathered in front of the Speaker’s dais and raised full-throated slogans for nearly 45 minutes forcing a powerless speaker to suspend the proceedings for 15 minutes without formally asking Mr Khan to occupy the official seat of the prime minister.
The opposition members raised slogans like Jali Wazir-i-Azam Namanzoor (fake prime minister unacceptable); Vote Chor (vote thief); Khalai Wazir-i-Azam Namanzoor (alien PM unacceptable) and Vote Ko Izzat Do (honour the vote). Instead of PTI MNAs, PTI workers from the overflowing galleries responded to the protesting PML-N members by raising slogans like Wazir-i-Azam Imran Khan and Adiala, Adiala in a reference to the central prison in Rawalpindi where PML-N supremo and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif is serving jail term in the Avenfield properties reference.
After having failed to bring order to the house, the chair finally suspended the proceedings for 15 minutes as PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi succeeded in persuading other opposition leaders to come to the speaker’s chamber in an effort to bring down the temperatures. Some PML-N members, however, kept sitting on the stairs in front of the official chair of the prime minister. The PML-N also boycotted the meeting at the speaker’s chamber that was attended by the representatives of all other parties in the house.
When Mr Khan returned to the house after around 30 minutes, the PML-N members resumed their protest. They kept raising slogans during his speech.
Wearing a black waistcoat over a white shalwar kameez, Mr Khan refuted the allegations that he had attained power through the covert support of the establishment. He said there were 43 provincial and 14 national assembly constituencies where the PTI candidates had lost with a margin of less than 4,000 or 3,000 votes. “Who were those helping us if they could not even arrange such votes,” he remarked.
“Only Jinnah struggled more than I did,” Mr Khan said.
“I did not climb on the shoulders of any dictator,” he claimed in an apparent jibe at the ousted premier Sharif who had entered politics during the regime of military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq in the late 1970s.
Mr Khan, who will take the oath of his office on Saturday morning at President House, said he attained this position after a 22-year-long struggle since the formation of his party in 1996, four years after his retirement from international cricket.
He said the time had come for the change that this nation had been striving for. “We will have strict accountability in this country. I will bring back the money that had been plundered and stashed abroad,” he said, adding that this money should be spent on health, education and water.
Responding to the allegations about rigging in the polls, he recalled as to how his demand for opening to electoral audit of four constituencies after the 2013 general election had not been heard by the then PML-N government. “I want to ask those who are making a hue and cry here why they did not investigate the [rigging allegations in] four constituencies. Why didn’t they hold people accountable? Why didn’t the [PML-N] government take action?” he asked. When he made these demands he was accused of being “planted by the establishment”, he said, adding that the PTI government would cooperate with those who wanted to take their complaints to the ECP or the apex court.
He challenged the opposition parties to hold a dharna (sit-in), announcing that his government would provide the container, food and even crowds for the protests. He asked Mr Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman to spend even a month together on a container and he would accept all their demands.
Later, the speaker gave floor to Mr Shahbaz and Mr Bilawal. Both leaders in their speeches highlighted the alleged irregularities in the elections and called for constituting a parliamentary commission to probe the rigging charges and make those accountable who were responsible for it.
Taking advantage of the calm that prevailed after the PML-N members left the house, PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi took the floor and accused the PML-N of breaking the agreement that the newly elected prime minister would be allowed to deliver speech.
As a damage control measure after Mr Khan’s aggressive speech, Mr Qureshi said the prime minister-elect could not deliver his actual speech due to the protests. Mr Khan wanted to invite every member of the house to sit together but regretfully the opposition did not show the patience to hear him, he said, asking the opposition parties to “change their behaviour”.
Balochistan National Party chief Akhtar Mengal said he would not felicitate Mr Khan till the time he delivered. He said the opposition members were yelling over stealing of votes, whereas “we are declared traitors when we raise voice for missing persons”.
MQM-P chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui termed the PML-N’s protest a “suicide attack” on democracy.
Earlier, before start of the voting, PML-N’s Murtaza Javed Abbasi drew the attention of the speaker towards the crowded galleries and said the sanctity of the house was being violated even when the government being imposed by khalai makhlooq (aliens) had not taken control. The speaker issued several warnings that he would expel those who would raise slogans from the galleries but he did not take any action while helplessly watching all the happenings.
Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2018