NA passes budget as govt humbles opposition

Updated 30 Jun 2020

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ISLAMABAD: PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaking in the National Assembly on Monday.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari speaking in the National Assembly on Monday.—White Star

• Bilawal asks PM to either apologise to nation or step down
• Qureshi says Imran will not resign on anyone’s demand
• Opposition faces 160-119 vote defeat on a clause of finance bill

ISLAMABAD: Amidst reports of cracks within the ranks of the ruling alliance, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Monday managed to get the federal budget for the financial year 2020-21 passed from the National Assembly, comfortably outnumbering the opposition whose members delivered fiery speeches, but failed to make any difference.

At the time of final vote on the finance bill, generally known as the federal budget, a triumphant Prime Minister Imran Khan was seen raising his hand in the air like he used to during his cricketing days and then receiving felicitations from the treasury members over his latest political victory.

The treasury members raised full-throated slogans in favour of Imran Khan as soon as Speaker Asad Qaiser announced passage of the budget through a voice vote.

The opposition did not insist on a headcount as it had only minutes ago faced a 160-119 defeat during the vote on one of the clauses of the finance bill.

Minister for Planning Asad Umar, while taking to Twitter after the passage of the budget, said: “Tall claims made by the opposition and some sensationalist analysis by the media over the last few days and the result is that the 29-vote majority — through which last year’s budget was passed — has increased to 41 votes.”

The prime minister entered the assembly hall at a time when the treasury and the opposition members were moving amendments to the finance bill, and after Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Khawaja Asif had already spoken and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and hot-headed Communications Minister Murad Saeed had forcefully defended him.

Despite agreeing to observe social distancing due to Covid-19, both the treasury and opposition members had directed the members to attend the sitting and remain present during the crucial vote. The PPP members were more cautious as they were seen wearing face shields throughout the session.

“Why should [PM] Imran Khan resign? What is the logic behind it? Imran Khan enjoys the confidence of this house,” Mr Qureshi thundered while responding to the PPP chairman’s speech in which he had asked the prime minister to either apologise to the nation for putting the country’s economy and the people’s health in danger through his “wrong decisions” or go home.

“People have given mandate to Imran Khan. Will he resign on your demand? Tum kis khet ki mooli ho (you stand nowhere),” said an emotional Qureshi while addressing the chairman of the PPP — the party he had quit in December 2011 to join the PTI.

Mr Qureshi said Imran Khan would continue to take notices of the opposition leaders’ “corruption, kickbacks and money laundering come what may”. “The whole nation should know that Imran Khan has come with an ideology. We don’t care for the governments. Every tiger of Imran Khan will defend this ideology,” said Mr Qureshi, who is also vice chairman of the PTI.

Referring to reports and the opposition’s claim about a rift within the ruling coalition, he said their claims had proved wrong and the allies were united under the leadership of PM Khan.

Interestingly, neither Mr Qureshi nor Mr Saeed made any comment on the opposition’s demand that the prime minister should clarify his position after declaring slain Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden a “martyr” during his last week speech in the National Assembly.

The opposition members staged a walkout when the speaker gave floor to the communications minister and they returned to the house only when he had finished the speech.

Earlier, the National Assembly witnessed a rumpus when Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry objected to the speaker’s act of giving floor to PML-N’s Khawaja Asif in the absence of Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif, who skipped the whole budget session after getting infected with coronavirus.

Mr Chaudhry asked how could Mr Asif sit on the chair of the opposition leader and requested the speaker to give a ruling.

The speaker, however, declared it an internal matter of the PML-N.

The house also witnessed a heated exchange of arguments between the opposition members and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, when both Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Khawaja Asif took him to task over the issue of “fake licences of the Pakistani pilots” and accused him of having a fake degree himself.

The minister on a point of personal explanation told the house that the Supreme Court had cleared him in the fake degree case.

Later, the house again witnessed disturbance and sloganeering from the two sides when Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) MNA Asad Mehmood accused the government of selling off Kashmir and highlighted his father Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s achievements as the head of the parliamentary committee on Kashmir.

Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Gandapur refuted Asad Mehmood’s claim and alleged that the people of Kashmir hated Maulana Fazl for doing nothing for their cause.

Taking the floor at the outset of the sitting, Khawaja Asif said they had reports that the government had forced some of its Covid-19 positive members to attend the sitting to complete its numbers.

Mr Qureshi, however, told the house that no coronavirus positive member had been asked to attend the sitting.

Referring to the attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi, Mr Asif regretted that terrorism had returned to the country.

Referring to the prime minister’s reported statement that he was the only option available to the country, he said in the past too, there were people who used to consider them indispensable. “When a person starts believing that he is indispensable, his downfall starts,” he added.

Referring to the bans imposed by some countries on the flights from Pakistan, the PML-N leader said today Pakistan had become a Covid-19 exporting country and the world was watching “our health system getting collapsed”.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari termed the notification regarding oil prices increase “illegal and criminal” and vowed to challenge it at “every forum”.

“How can a minister issue a notification which should have been issued by Ogra? How will you show your faces to the public? How will you face your constituents?” he asked while pointing to the treasury benches.

Terming the PIA plane crash reports “shameful”, the PPP chairman said the government was holding the dead pilots responsible for its own failures and defaming the Pakistan International Airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority at the international level.

He said his party had been asking the government not to open airports due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it paid no heed. “Now you are telling us that the pilots were discussing coronavirus throughout the flight. Yes. They were worried as you had forced them to fly the aircraft during the pandemic,” he added.

The PPP chairman said the prime minister had no courage to call Benazir Bhutto a Shaheed, but he had declared Osama bin Laden a martyr.

The treasury members protested when Mr Bhutto-Zardari called the prime minister a “coward”, forcing the speaker to expunge it from the assembly proceedings.

The PPP chairman raised the slogan “Dehshat gardon ka jo yar hai, ghaddar hai” and then addressed Fawad Chaudhry, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Babar Awan, Fehmida Mirza — all those who were once in the PPP — and asked them to tell if Osama was a martyr?

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020