Speaker nixes GB meet as opposition alleges bias

Updated 28 Sep 2020

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National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Sunday cancelled the parliamentary leaders’ meeting he had convened on Monday (today) on coming Gilgit-Baltistan elections. — APP/File
National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Sunday cancelled the parliamentary leaders’ meeting he had convened on Monday (today) on coming Gilgit-Baltistan elections. — APP/File

• PPP says it will not become part of any committee under speaker
• Information minister challenges opposition to resign from parliament

ISLAMABAD: Following the opposition’s decision to boycott, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Sunday cancelled the parliamentary leaders’ meeting he had convened on Monday (today) on coming Gilgit-Baltistan elections as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) announced that it would not become part of any parliamentary committee under him for his alleged biased conduct during the last joint sitting of parliament.

The country’s major opposition parties had announced on Saturday that they would stay away from the parliamentary leaders’ meeting in line with Sept 20 multiparty conference (MPC)’s declaration through which they had said they would not cooperate with the government inside and outside the parliament.

Moreover, the opposition parties had also condemned the speaker’s move to convene the meeting, saying the speaker and the federal government had no role in the elections for the GB Legislative Assembly.

“The meeting of the parliamentary leaders which was scheduled to be held under the speaker at the Parliament House at 3pm has been postponed,” announced a spokesman for the National Assembly Secretariat without mentioning any reason at a time when the opposition parties have intensified their consultative process to finalise a plan to launch a movement against the government from next month.

Besides holding public meetings in the four provincial capitals, the opposition had announced that it would stage countrywide protests and rallies in December before launching a decisive long march on Islamabad from the platform of newly-formed Pakistan Democratic Movement to oust the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government.

The opposition leaders had also declared that they could use the option to collectively resign from the parliament to put pressure on the government.

On the other hand, federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz on Sunday challenged the opposition to resign from the parliament, saying if they resigned, the government would hold by-elections on the vacant seats.

The opposition parties have already intensified consultative process to give formal shape to the PDM and finalise dates for public meetings. Sources said the opposition leaders were considering a proposal by Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai to kick off its anti-government movement from a public meeting in Quetta in the first week of October.

The decision to boycott the NA speaker’s meeting was officially announced by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari through Twitter on Saturday after reports that Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had talked to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif over phone.

“The NA speaker and the federal ministers have nothing to do with the elections in GB. We condemn the interference of the federal government with elections. My party will only be engaging with the Election Commission GB on our demands for fair elections,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari had tweeted.

Similarly, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal had said the federal ministers and the speaker had no locus standi on the issue of the GB elections.

He said it was the responsibility of the chief election commissioner of Gilgit-Baltistan to announce a code of conduct for the elections after consulting all political parties.

Speaker Asad Qaiser had last week sent letters to the parliamentary leaders of all parties having representation in the National Assembly, inviting them to the meeting being convened on the issue of GB elections and seeking their proposals for electoral reforms.

The NA speaker in the letter had stated that some circles were expressing concern and doubts about transparency in the GB elections and he was convening the meeting so that the parliamentary leaders could suggest steps for ensuring transparency in the GB polls.

The speaker had taken the initiative on the sensitive issue a day after the opposition and the government had agreed to hold consultations on the proposal of granting “provisional provincial status” to GB after the elections.

The representatives of the government and the opposition parties had also discussed the coming GB elections and the proposal to grant it ‘provisional provincial status” in a meeting with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General of the Inter-Service Intelligence Lt Gen Faiz Hameed on Sept 16.

President Arif Alvi had last week notified Nov 15 as the date for elections on 24 general seats of the GB Legislative Assembly.

Speaking at a news conference on Sunday, PPP leaders Farhatullah Babar and Nayyar Bokhari said there should be no interference in the GB polls by the agencies and judicial officers should be deputed as returning officers.

They said it was not the authority of the NA speaker to call a meeting of the parliamentary leaders on the GB polls and that a meeting of the parliamentary leaders should only be called by Prime Minister Imran Khan as leader of the house in the National Assembly.

The PPP leaders alleged that the “agencies’ people” were distributing health cards and pressurising people which amounted to pre-poll rigging.

Referring to the meeting of the political leaders with the army chief, Mr Babar said the meeting should have been called by the prime minister. And if the prime minister had not been invited to that meeting or he had chosen not to attend that meeting he should resign because it was an act of undermining political mandate.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Shibli Faraz while talking to Dawn said the opposition parties had started making hue and cry over the GB polls as they knew that the people of GB would reject them like the masses had done in rest of Pakistan.

Commenting on the opposition’s decision to boycott the parliamentary leaders’ meeting, he said the opposition was running away from it because it they participated in it and gave suggestions for improvement in the electoral process, tomorrow they would find no excuse for making allegations of rigging in the polls. He said the speaker had called the meeting with sincerity to ensure smooth conduct of the elections in transparent manner.

Earlier, in a video statement, the information minister said Nawaz Sharif’s narrative was aimed at creating uncertainty and chaos in the country.

In an apparent reference to the hard-hitting anti-establishment speech of Mr Sharif at the MPC via video link, the minister said Mr Sharif’s “revolutionary” stance was “fake” and based on double standards, adding that voices were being raised on Mr Sharif’s narrative within his own party.

He said some of the PML-N members understood that their leader was using them for his personal interests.

Mr Faraz said noose was tightening on the PML-N leadership due to NAB cases. In this situation, he said, the opposition was making efforts to blackmail the government and threatening to tender resignations from the assemblies.

“If they resign, the government will hold by-elections and get majority in the house which will also prove beneficial for legislation”, the minister added.

He said the opposition was using various tactics to dislodge the government, but they would fail in their designs.

Mr Faraz said the PML-N was looking for a deal and constantly making contacts with the government’s functionaries.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2020