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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday faced a strong backlash from opposition parties over his tweet in which he criticised them for staging frequent walkouts from the National Assembly, calling it pressure tactics to evade accountability.

Annoyed at the opposition boycott of the assembly proceedings on the opening day of the new session, the prime minister through his official Twitter account said the repeated walkouts indicated that this was “the only function they (opposition) intend to perform”. In the same tweet, he alleged the opposition was disrupting the assembly proceedings to evade accountability.

The two main opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — reacted strongly to the criticism and slammed the prime minister for remaining constantly absent from parliament.

PM’s absence from parliament comes under question after he tweeted that repeated boycott of NA by lawmakers was aimed at evading accountability

Interestingly, the official record of the National Assembly shows that Mr Khan had so far attended only three of the 31 sittings in the house since his election as prime minister on Aug 17, 2018.

The attendance record shows the PTI chairman had attended a total of six sittings of the NA, including the inaugural session for the oath-taking of the members and the elections of the speaker, deputy speaker and the prime minister. Last time the prime minister had attended the NA session on Oct 3. Mr Khan, however, was present in the joint sitting of parliament convened for the address of President Arif Alvi on Sept17.

“In a parliament that costs taxpayers billions yearly, yet another walkout in NA by the opposition shows that this is the only function they intend to perform. These are pressure tactics to seek an NRO and evade accountability for corruption in NAB cases not initiated by (the) PTI,” tweeted PM Khan.

In another tweet, the prime minister wondered if democracy for the opposition meant “immunity from corruption”.

“Does democracy mean immunity from corruption of democratically elected political leaders? It seems for them being elected is a license to plunder the country,” he said.

When asked about the PM’s claims that the opposition was seeking a deal by staging repeated walkouts, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif reportedly said: “The allegations hurled by Imran Khan are so baseless that they don’t merit a response.”

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, while talking to a TV reporter, said Mr Khan himself did not come to parliament and he had no knowledge about parliamentary proceedings.

The opposition leaders reminded Mr Khan that soon after his election he had declared that he would personally respond to the questions of lawmakers in the National Assembly every Wednesday.

After remaining absent for five years from parliament while taking all perks and privileges, Mr Khan had suddenly become considerate of the cost of running parliament just for political point scoring, said PML-N central spokesperson and former information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb.

Responding to the PM’s tweet, she said that Mr Khan needed to be reminded that it’s the same parliament that he had besieged and led an assault on. “It is the same parliament which the PTI chairman had cursed and when asked to apologise, he doubled down his cursing on the august house,” she added.

Ms Aurangzeb termed the tweet a reflection of the PM’s outrage over his incompetent cabinet. “Mr Prime Minister, parliament and countries are not run on twitter. The people of Pakistan are about to declare their Prime Minister as ‘Missing Person’ and are ready to put up advertisement to find where exactly is the head of the country while his government is causing one after another crisis,” she said.

The PML-N leader said that the nation would not grant any NRO-like package to Mr Khan or his billionaire sister Aleema Khanum, as the people were aware that he was again trying to sell accusations in a bid to hide his own incompetence.

She declared that the opposition could not be browbeaten through “allegations and threats” as it would continue to question the government performance.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2019