ISLAMABAD: An outburst by Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari against Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet created a rumpus in the National Assembly on the opening day of its spring session on Monday, forcing a ‘powerless’ speaker to abruptly adjourn the sitting till Tuesday morning [today] after protesting opposition members gathered in front of the treasury benches to prevent a minister from giving a response.

Failing to maintain order, Speaker Asad Qaiser first suspended proceedings for a few minutes when the PPP members did not allow federal Minister for Power Omar Ayub to respond to Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s speech, and later announced adjournment when he found no change in the situation after returning to resume proceedings.

The repeated use of the term “selected prime minister” by the PPP chairman in his fiery speech caused agitation amongst treasury members who, several times, stood up during his speech and raised slogans in support of Prime Minister Imran Khan. In response, opposition members started raising anti-government slogans, leading to further commotion.

Besides the treasury members, the speaker also took exception to Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s act of calling Mr Khan a “selected” prime minister, and not only expunged it from the assembly record but reminded the PPP chairman that the prime minister had been elected by this assembly.

Speaker forced to adjourn proceedings after protests

On one occasion, when treasury members, including some of the ministers, interrupted the PPP chairman, the young leader declared that if he was not allowed to speak, then his party would not allow the prime minister to enter the house.

The speaker’s remarks, however, did not stop the PPP chairman from using the term and he referred to the present regime as a “puppet.”

“If you [the treasury members] think that you can silence us by using abusive language and putting pressure, that is not possible,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, adding: “When dictators like Ziaul Haq, Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf could not deter us, then this puppet government is nothing before us”.

The PPP chairman had taken the floor to speak on a “point of personal explanation” to respond to the speech of former finance minister Asad Umar during the previous sitting, in which he had objected to some of his remarks about banned organisations and alleged that he had delivered the speech in English to give a message to the outside world.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari called Mr Umar, who was not present in the house, “an educated but illiterate person”. When the speaker objected to his remarks, the PPP chairman questioned as to why the speaker had not stopped Mr Umar when he was delivering the speech.

Saying that such allegations were not new for them, the PPP chairman recalled that in the past his mother Benazir Bhutto, grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto, and even the sister of the Quaid-i-Azam had been called traitors and anti-state. He said that if personalities such as these could be declared “anti-state”, then he felt pride in being called a traitor by “anti-democracy ministers” of this government.

Changes in cabinet

The PPP chairman asked the government to explain the recent changes made in the cabinet. “Why have you sacked our finance minister (Asad Umar)? Why have you sacked Fawad (Chaudhry)? Why have you removed (Shehryar) Afridi and (Aamir) Kiani?” asked the PPP chairman.

“Have you sacked the (finance) minister because he contested the elections with the support of UN-declared banned organisations? Have you accepted my demand that all those ministers having links with terrorists and banned outfits be sacked?” he went on to say.

He also lashed out at the government’s decision to appoint retired Brig Ijaz Shah as the country’s interior minister, questioning how such an important position had been given to a person facing serious charges and who was allegedly involved in “the murder of (US journalist) Daniel Pearl.”

“What message do you want to give to the world? Do you want to tell the world that our cabinet comprises terrorists and their facilitators?” he asked.

Terming the new cabinet a combination of the team of Gen Pervez Musharraf and the previous PPP government, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that he had already declared the finance minister had been “incompetent and ineligible” but the prime minister had acknowledged it after wasting nine precious months of the nation.

“If anyone had to go home, it should have been the incapable and incompetent prime minister”, the PPP chairman said amid desk-thumping by opposition members and noisy protest from the treasury benches.

Minister for Power Omar Ayub, grandson of the country’s first military dictator Ayub Khan, tried to respond to Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s speech but he could not do so due to the noisy protest by the opposition.

Earlier, during question hour, the opposition protested against the speaker for allowing Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan reply to the questions related to the Ministry for Interior despite the presence of the newly appointed interior minister in the house.

The speaker first tried to defend his act by citing rules and saying that any minister could respond, taking it as “collective responsibility.” However, when opposition members asked the speaker to give a ruling, he requested that some time be given to the new minister as he had not so far received any briefing from the officials of his ministry.

The opening day of the new session saw the introduction of three government bills. These were the Foreign Exchange Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2019, the Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill 2019, and the Control of Narcotic Substances (Amendment) Bill 2019.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019