The government on Wednesday bulldozed through the National Assembly the Finance Supplementary (Second Amendment) Bill of 2019, commonly referred to as the PTI government's second 'mini-budget', which had been presented by Finance Minister Asad Umar on January 23.
Umar had described the bill as a measure to address the people of Pakistan's needs. The government had framed it as a package of policies designed to boost the economy, but critics described it as a tax break for the rich.
Since the introduction of the bill in the parliament, a number of amendments had been tacked on to the original bill during its passage through Senate.
On Feb 25, the 55 proposed amendments in the bill were laid out for discussion by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan on behalf of Umar in the NA. The NA today rejected all amendments to the bill proposed by the opposition.
During the session, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari thanked the Speaker for allowing opposition parties to speak on the budget.
"It would have been an unprecedented move were there not to be a debate on the budget. And while we thank you for that, I must reiterate, on the floor of the House, that it would be most appropriate if there was a complete and proper debate on the finance bill."
Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) MNA Maulana Asad Mehmood concurred, arguing that the finance bill should be debated in the NA for three days prior to approval.
But even as the opposition objected, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser started the process of passing the finance bill amidst noise and commotion.
In protest, opposition members tore up copies of the bill and threw them over their desks.
In a dubious first, Maghrib prayers were also offered on the floor of the National Assembly, led by Maulana Mehmood of JUI-F, in a bid to obstruct the parliamentary proceedings.
PML-N's Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal also took part in the prayers. The Speaker was forced to adjourn proceedings for ten minutes to avoid further confrontation.
Opposition members then walked out as the assembly returned from recess.
Speaking to media after the bill was approved, Bilawal Bhutto said debate on the budget was essential and protest was a right of the opposition.
He said it was not right to just permit parliamentary leaders to speak. He said all members of the NA should be given a right to debate the budget.
He said that there should be at least four days of debate on the budget and added that the government's "bulldozing" was undemocratic and unconstitutional.
"Protest on this action of the government is essential," Bilawal said.