ISLAMABAD: Questioning the government’s decision to call the National Assembly session at a time when the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was holding its first rally in Gujranwala, the opposition on Friday staged noisy protests in the house, compelling Prime Minister Imran Khan to leave without delivering his speech.
The prime minister was also confronted by tough questions during the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) parliamentary party committee meeting earlier in the day when some members raised the issues of price hike, shortage of consumer items and role of advisers.
Around 45 opposition members present in the National Assembly started raising slogans as soon as the session commenced and continued with it till NA Speaker Asad Qaiser adjourned the proceedings till Monday.
Carrying placards, the opposition members chanted slogans against the prime minister and the government despite the speaker’s repeated appeals for maintaining order in the house.
The opposition lawmakers turned the focus of their slogans towards Prime Minister Imran Khan as he walked into the assembly with other government members and ministers.
The session, which was called on Thursday, coincided with the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rally in Gujranwala where leaders and supporters of major opposition parties were gathering to protest against the government’s policies.
The assembly session started off with prayers for the 13 security personnel and seven private guards martyred in terrorist attacks in Gwadar and North Waziristan.
As the session progressed, the opposition members started thumping desks and shouting, prompting the prime minister to leave the house without delivering his planned speech.
The speaker, who had hoped the situation would normalise, adjourned the session, resuming it after 40 minutes. However, there was no let-up in the opposition’s protest.
Speaking on the floor of the house, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Naveed Qamar asked the speaker why the session was called on Friday despite the fact that it was scheduled for Oct 19.
“Why was the session called on Friday when the opposition is staging its first public gathering in Gujranwala,” he added.
Mr Qamar said the government was itself weakening the parliament by “subjugating” the opposition’s role.
“We wanted to raise people’s problems in the parliament but the government forced us to do it on the streets,” the PPP MNA said, adding that in the last joint sitting of the parliament, the NA speaker had not allowed opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to speak when several bills were passed by the house.
He urged NA Speaker Asad Qaiser not to make the parliament “irrelevant” by cornering the opposition.
“Protest movements have been launched in the country against sitting governments since 1947 and they will continue in future as well, but it does not mean the parliament should be run without the opposition,” he added.
As soon as the PPP leader concluded his speech, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan got up to respond to his remarks but another PPP MNA Abdul Qadir Patel pointed out the quorum after which the opposition benchers left the house.
However, the proceeding resumed when the number of treasury benchers was found appropriate.
Mr Awan rose on his seat again and said the opposition had been taken on board during the passage of bills in the joint sitting.
“Unfortunately, the opposition agreed on two bills in the standing committee meeting, but bulldozed one in the house,” he added.
He lauded the role of the speaker, saying that one could not find any example in the past of the way he had run the house.
Parliamentary party meeting
Prime Minister Khan had to face thorny questions from PTI members and government allies during the parliamentary party meeting.
A PTI leader, who did not want to be named, told Dawn that the prime minister was asked to control price hike and shortage of consumer items. The role of his advisers was also criticised, he added.
About the PDM rally in Gujranwala, the prime minister had said he had no problem with the opposition’s movements and public meetings.
“There is no need to give them (opposition) importance,” he said, adding that he wanted the opposition to hold rallies every day because it would expose them before the public every day.
About inflation, the PTI leader said the prime minister assured the nation that prices of essential items would come down, adding that he had tasked Minister for Food Security Fakhar Imam and Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar to overcome sugar and wheat crises.
The PTI leader said Mr Khan told the meeting that he would deliver a speech on the floor of the National Assembly to apprise the people of the steps the government was taking to control inflation.
Prime Minister Khan was also asked to control gas and electricity charges as some members said people had failed to pay their utility bills.
He said the PTI government was not responsible for the crisis being faced by the nation as it was a result of the wrongdoings of previous rulers.
“These people (former rulers) had brought the country on the brink of disaster,” the prime minister added.
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020