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ISLAMABAD: Oppo­sition members, mostly women, on Thursday disrupted National Assembly proceedings to lodge their protest over what they described as Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘misogynist’ remark about Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and asked him to apologise on the floor of the house.

“He (the prime minister) has insulted his office. He should take his words back. He should come here and apologise. If he doesn’t do it then I will be compelled to say that he is not my prime minister,” declared an angry Dr Nafisa Shah after succeeding in getting the floor through a strong and noisy protest of her colleagues on the opposition benches.

After the session was over, Mr Bhutto-Zardari — who could not attend the assembly proceedings due to his meeting with Balochistan National Party chief Akhtar Mengal — later talking to reporters outside the Parliament House termed the prime minister’s remark “highly condemnable” and “an insult to all the women of the country”.

Earlier, the National Assembly once again saw rumpus when after completion of the Question Hour, a number of opposition women members mostly belonging to the PPP started raising slogans “Go Imran Go” when they were denied the floor by Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri.

Instead of giving floor to an opposition member, Mr Suri asked Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan to present the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019 for passage. The two-clause bill aimed at facilitating the Election Commission of Pakistan in carrying out delimitation of constituencies in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas for elections on 16 seats of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly was hurriedly passed by the house through a voice vote amid a noisy protest of the opposition members who had almost besieged the speaker’s dais by that time.

The deputy speaker said they had great respect for women and that it was not a gender-based issue. He then gave the floor to Ahsan Iqbal of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to move a calling attention notice regarding non-release of funds for the establishment of Neurosciences Centre in a hospital of Islamabad. Mr Iqbal, however, requested the chair to allow the women members to speak.

After resisting for some time, Mr Suri finally gave the floor to PPP’s most vocal MNA from Khairpur, Dr Nafisa Shah, who then slammed the prime minister over his remark about her party chairman.

Addressing a public meeting in Wana on Wednesday, the prime minister had called Mr Bhutto-Zardari ‘Sahiba’ (a respectful mode of addressing a woman).

Dr Shah, who is also the PPP’s information secretary, “condemned” the prime minister’s speech and asked the women members sitting on the treasury benches to join their voice with them.

The PPP MNA was of the view that PM’s remark did not amount to humiliation or an insult of her party chairman, but “this is a reflection of misogynistic thinking”.

Bilawal’s media talk

The PPP chairman said by making such a comment about him, the prime minister had belittled himself.

“What message the prime minister is giving to the women of this country. The PM is saying that being a woman is an abuse,” he went on saying.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that women had played a key role in the spread of Islam. He said Pakistani women were brave and he felt proud of them. He said the women should be encouraged in the fields of politics, economy and society. He gave the example of Fatima Jinnah and his own mother Benazir Bhutto, who had rendered great sacrifices for the cause of democracy in Pakistan.

“The PM is insulting himself. If he has become the PM by whatever means, he should respect the office and keep his tongue under control,” he said.

“I ask those who have brought him (the PM) to power: are you enjoying this Tabdeeli (change)?” he said without elaborating.

Criticising recent controversial statements of the prime minister during foreign visits, he said that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi should not let Mr Khan visit any country alone to save the country from facing embarrassment due to his repeated “slips of the tongue”.

He warned that any effort to push the country towards one-unit or the presidential system would “disintegrate” the country.

The PPP chairman lashed out at the economic and foreign policies of the government. He also criticised the government’s plan to introduce a new tax amnesty scheme, saying that it was being brought only for the benefit of rich people.

Interestingly, the PPP chairman while highlighting the achievements of his party’s government and criticising the PTI government, also hit out at the PML-N, saying that “the governments of both the PTI and the PML-N only provide relief to the rich class”. He claimed that the PPP had provided 6.8 million jobs in its five-year tenure whereas the PML-N had provided employment to 2.8m people.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the people would no more tolerate “tyranny” and would come on the streets on their own if they were not provided any relief in the upcoming budget.

The PPP chairman said that if the government did not take the parliament into confidence over the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund then any deal with it would be considered “unconstitutional and illegal”.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019