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ISLAMABAD: The debate on the federal budget 2019-20 could not commence in the National Assembly on Friday as the house witnessed pandemonium, this time created by the treasury members, including some ministers, who defied the speaker and the deputy speaker of their own party and did not allow Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif to initiate the budget debate.

Speaker Asad Qaiser had to suspend the proceedings twice when the opposition leader refused to start the debate due to constant noise and hooting from the treasury benches.

When Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri resumed the sitting after the Friday prayers and asked Mr Sharif to initiate the debate, the members from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl demanded the floor, saying they wanted to talk on an important issue.

However, the JUI-F members, who apparently wanted to talk about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation in which he had spoken about some historic Islamic events, were not allowed to speak by the deputy speaker.

Mr Sharif asked the deputy speaker to give the floor to Maulana Asad Mehmood, the son of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, saying that he wanted to talk about a sensitive issue regarding Namoos-i-Risalat and Namoos-i-Sahaba. However, realising that the issue could aggravate the already chaotic situation, Mr Suri did not give the floor to the JUI-F members who later staged a walkout.

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry and other Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNAs opposed giving the floor to the JUI-F lawmakers, who wanted to speak before Mr Sharif initiated debate on the budget. The deputy speaker said Mr Sharif should be the first to speak “unless he wants to forgo his turn”. The exchange of arguments between the deputy speaker and the leader of the opposition went on for more than half an hour before the latter finally got up to speak.

At the start of the session, PTI MNAs created a ruckus when former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf took the floor and asked for issuance of a production order for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who had been recently arrested by the National Accountability Bureau in the fake bank accounts and money laundering case. During Mr Ashraf’s speech, treasury members created a rumpus by passing remarks loudly and raising slogans. On this, the session was adjourned till after the Friday prayers.

The session resumed at 2pm and again Mr Sharif was not allowed to open the budget debate.

The deputy speaker asked Mr Sharif to continue his speech amid ruckus and he made numerous attempts to start the debate, but was not allowed to speak by the treasury members who resorted to noisy protest and desk-thumping.

The deputy speaker kept on requesting the troublemakers, including Fawad Chaudhry, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, to listen to the speech of Mr Sharif with patience, but they continued to defy him, forcing him to adjourn the proceedings till Monday.

After failing to start the debate, Mr Sharif warned that if he was not allowed to speak then they would also not let the prime minister speak in the house and only the government would be responsible for such a situation.

In his opening remarks, Mr Sharif said this was the first full-fledged budget of the ‘rigging-tainted’ government which had earlier presented two mini-budgets that had ruined the country’s economy.

He accused the government of taking the dollar up to the skies against the rupee and said its “propaganda machinery” could not hide the government’s dismal performance.

Before adjourning the session, the deputy speaker said it had been decided in the House Business Advisory Committee that during the budget debate, the session would continue on Saturdays. However, in the prevailing situation, he was adjourning the sitting till Monday.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019