National Assembly echoes with opposition whistles

Updated 21 Oct 2020


ISLAMABAD: Members of the opposition parties hold a protest in the National Assembly on Tuesday.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Members of the opposition parties hold a protest in the National Assembly on Tuesday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday echoed with whistles for nearly two hours as the opposition staged an unprecedented noisy protest following refusal of Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri to allow them to speak on the current political situation in the country.

The opposition members kept on hurling papers, sometimes in the form of paper airplanes, at the speaker’s dais, raised full-throated anti-government slogans and surrounded Mr Suri momentarily, keeping the sergeants-at-arms standing alert beside him almost throughout the proceedings.

Mr Suri, however, remained undeterred and kept on conducting the private member’s day proceedings and managed to take up over 100 agenda items in the process.

Holding placards in their hands, the opposition members, mostly women, chanted various anti-government slogans, like Aata Chor, Cheeni Chor and Go Niazi, Go Niazi. A number of opposition members kept on blowing whistles making it difficult for reporters sitting in the press gallery to hear treasury members who were allowed to introduce their private member’s bills.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and other concerned ministers did not oppose any bills moved by the members, allowing the deputy speaker to refer them to committees.

Qureshi criticises opposition’s behaviour, asking deputy speaker to reject its bills on agenda

There was complete silence in the house providing much relief to the treasury members and those sitting in the galleries, though for a brief time, on two occasions when the opposition members staged walkout leaving behind their colleagues to point out quorum. When quorum was first pointed out by Abdul Qadir Patel of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the deputy speaker declared the house in order after the headcount and continued the proceedings.

However, few minutes later, Javed Hasnain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) again pointed out lack of quorum forcing Mr Suri to first suspend the proceedings for 10 minutes and then adjourn the sitting till Friday morning. Under the rules, presence of 86 members (one-fourth) of the 342-member house is necessary to run the proceedings.

In the absence of the opposition members, Mr Suri gave floor to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who lamented the opposition’s behaviour and asked the chair to reject all the opposition’s bills on the agenda as they were not serious in legislation work.

The minister termed the opposition’s behaviour “childish” and “regrettable” and declared that the government was not worried at all over their protest.

“These people have been elected for blowing whistles and they will keep blowing whistles for next three years,” Mr Qureshi said while pointing towards the opposition members who were returning to the house when he was still on his legs.

Public meeting in Karachi

It all started when parliamentary leader of the PML-N Khawaja Asif sought floor as he wanted to speak on the latest developments that took place after the opposition’s public meeting in Karachi on Oct 18.

The opposition members, who had come well-prepared for the day, brought out placards, banners and whistles and gathered in front of the dais of the speaker, asking him to give an opportunity to the opposition to speak.

Some of the opposition members even reached behind the officials of the National Assembly Secretariat and used their microphones for raising slogans. The deputy speaker was seen constantly receiving instructions from one of his senior staff members who kept on telling him the names of the members for giving them the floor.

There was a 168-point agenda for the sitting which included introduction of 42 private member’s bills. The deputy speaker deferred 28 bills, including those that had been submitted by the opposition members, and allowed introduction of 13 bills despite noisy opposition’s protest.

The National Assembly hurriedly passed three bills as the deputy chairman sought approval of all the clauses of the bills collectively instead of seeking their approval one by one amid opposition’s accusation of bulldosing the legislative business.

The bills passed by the assembly were the Islamabad Rent Restriction (Amendment) Bill, 2020, making the agreement between tenants and landlords mandatory with 10 per cent annual increase in rent, the Islamabad Capital Territory Food Safety Bill, 2020, seeking to establish a food authority in the capital to maintain safety and standards of food and the Islamabad Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2020, for regulation and promotion of the real estate sector.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2020