ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khawaja Asif and Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari wave to reporters after their press conference at Sindh House on Sunday.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khawaja Asif and Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari wave to reporters after their press conference at Sindh House on Sunday.—Online

• Calls Imran Khan a ‘national liability’
• Vows to oppose budget ‘forcefully’
• Plans to hold protest today in NA in PM’s presence

ISLAMABAD: Rejecting the federal budget “unanimously, entirely and forcefully” and calling Prime Minister Imran Khan a “national liability”, the opposition parties on Sunday vowed to explore all “constitutional means” to oust the government, saying “the country needs a new mandate”.

After having hectic consultations almost throughout the day, the opposition parties having representation in parliament came out with an eight-page joint statement citing 19 reasons for the decision to reject the federal budget.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has become a national liability and he is leading the country to a disaster. The sooner we get rid of him, the more chances we have of salvaging bacha kucha Pakistan,” said parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the National Assembly Khawaja Asif while speaking at a news conference with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and representatives of other opposition parties at Sindh House.

“The united opposition will make a joint policy…and fight for the people of Pakistan at every front,” the PML-N stalwart from Sialkot said after Mr Bhutto-Zardari announced that his party had decided to postpone its proposed multi-party conference (MPC) till the complete recovery of ailing opposition leader and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif.

A senior PML-N leader told Dawn that the opposition would lodge a protest in the National Assembly at the time of the passage of the federal budget and in the presence of Prime Minister Khan on Monday. He, however, said the mode of the protest would be discussed before the start of the NA sitting. He ruled out the possibility of staging a walkout from the assembly as it would provide an opportunity to get the budget passed smoothly.

The decision to reject the budget has been endorsed by nine parties, including the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), which had recently quit the ruling coalition over the Balochistan issues. Besides the BNP-M, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), which had stayed away from previous MPCs of the opposition parties at the time of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s (JUI-F) long march in October last year, also came to the opposition-fold.

Besides the signatures of Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Khawaja Asif, the joint statement also carries the signatures of representatives of the JUI-F, JI, BNP-M, Awami National Party, Qaumi Watan Party, National Party and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement-backed independent MNA Mohsin Dawar. A senior opposition leader later said the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mehmood Khan Achakzai was also on board.

“The Federal Budget 2020-21 has failed on every account to adequately address the challenges posed by a global pandemic, rampant inflation, endemic unemployment, collapsing industry, shrinking agriculture, a deadly locust invasion, and ongoing global economic shocks. The IK government has failed miserably in providing relief to Pakistanis when they need it most. The Federal Budget 2020-21 fails to provide for protecting the lives, economic future and livelihoods of the Pakistani people. The Joint Opposition rejects it unanimously, entirely, and forcefully,” said the joint statement which was later distributed among journalists.

Speaking at the news conference, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the budget presented by the government had united all the countrymen. He blasted the government over the unprecedented hike in oil prices, terming it a “cruel act” of the rulers against the poor people who were already under stress due to the multiple crises being faced by the country.

He said the tax on petroleum products was more than its price, adding that the unexpected decision to increase the prices of all petroleum products was an “excellent example of this government’s hypocrisy”. “We had thought that the budget would help protect the people’s economic rights. Instead of doing that, it has added to their burden,” the PPP chairman said, adding that the opposition had improved its strength and now they would give more tough time to the government.

Responding to a question, the PPP chairman said the opposition had played a “responsible role”, particularly since the time when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country. Lambasting the rulers over the handling of coronavirus, he said the present government was not a threat to democracy and the economy, but a threat to people’s lives and health.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said he wanted to hold the MPC earlier but could not do so due to the poor health condition of Shahbaz Sharif. He said he had delayed the MPC for another week and it would be held as soon as Mr Sharif’s health improved.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2020