• Lawmakers scuffle, heap abuse on each other
• Assembly session prorogued without voting on constitution amendment bill
ISLAMABAD: Equally unruly treasury and opposition members on Thursday turned the National Assembly into a house of shame as they kept shouting, sloganeering, naming, thumping desks, whistling, scuffling and even abusing each other almost continuously during more than three-hour long sitting during an inconclusive debate on the controversial constitution amendment bill seeking open Senate vote.
For quite some time, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri was forced to run the assembly proceedings while sitting amid a ring of sergeants after a brawl among the lawmakers in front of his dais where the opposition members had gathered to lodge protest against the chair for what they called running the house one-sidedly and not giving them the floor.
Perhaps for the first time in the country’s parliamentary history, the treasury members were seen pointing out lack of quorum after staging a walkout from the house to prevent the opposition from delivering speeches. The treasury members, however, had to face embarrassment when the deputy speaker declared the house in order after a vote count and asked Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to continue his speech in which he lambasted the government over its alleged failure at all fronts, including economy and foreign policy.
“Those who wanted to expose us have exposed themselves,” Mr Ashraf said when the treasury members were going out of the hall after pointing out lack of quorum by Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry.
The opposition members carrying placards chanted slogans “Dekho dekho kaun bhaga, chor bhaga, chor bhaga (look who is running away, thieves are running away) and “Go Niazi go” when the treasury members were going out of the hall.
Earlier, the house witnessed a scuffle between the treasury and opposition members when two ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNAs from Karachi, Attaullah and Faheem Khan, rushed to the protesting opposition members who had besieged the deputy speaker.
PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar, who is otherwise known for his politeness, was seen exchanging heated arguments with the deputy speaker when he gave the floor to Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umer after the two ministers had already spoken. During the course of arguments, which could not be heard due to noisy protest and whistle-blowing by some of the opposition members, Mr Qamar suddenly pulled the deputy speaker’s mike towards himself alerting the sergeants-at-arm who rushed to the PPP member from Hyderabad, but refrained from touching him.
In the meantime, the PTI MNAs from Karachi also reached there, but they were thrown out by the opposition members. Mr Attaullah, who had fallen down on the stairs, stood up and once again tried to rush towards the opposition members while using highly abusive language which was clearly heard at the press gallery, but was physically stopped by some senior members from both sides.
The deputy speaker suspended the proceedings for Zuhr prayers, leaving behind the slogan-chanting treasury and opposition members.
When the proceedings resumed after 15 minutes, Mr Suri first gave the floor to Mr Umar to continue his speech and then to Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Mr Ashraf alleged that “the members from Karachi” had abused and attacked Mr Qamar when he was having an argument with the chair. He asked the PTI members to apologise to Mr Qamar on which some treasury members shouted that first Mr Qamar should apologise to the deputy speaker.
Amid slogans of “Raja rental” from the treasury benches, Mr Ashraf said the day would be remembered in history that when the opposition got an opportunity to speak on the constitution amendment, a federal minister pointed out quorum which the opposition had completed.
He said the days of the government had been numbered and when the opposition would hold a long march, the rulers would find no place to hide. He said the behavior of the treasury members showed that perhaps they had no belief that they were in power.
Mr Ashraf said he had heard that the prime minister had been waiting for an opportunity to come to the assembly, but he was unable to do it. He was of the view that it was because of the atmosphere created by the treasury members themselves that the prime minister did not dare come to the house.
The PPP leader said the government had introduced the amendment bill knowing that it could not get it through which clearly showed the intent behind the move. He said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had himself stated that they knew that they didn’t have the required numbers and that the government had brought the bill only to expose the opposition.
Mr Ashraf suggested formation of a parliamentary committee to discuss and review the bill if the government was sincere in its desire to bring transparency in the Senate elections. He said that in the previous Senate elections, 20 PTI MPAs had voted against the party line and this time 70 per cent of them would not support the ruling party candidates.
“You have lost the Senate elections,” Mr Ashraf declared, stating that voting for the Senate would definitely be held through secret ballot and asked the PTI members to stay firm. He claimed that a number of PTI dissidents were in contact with the opposition parties.
When the chair gave the floor to Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, the opposition members staged a walkout, leaving PML-N’s Khurram Dastagir in the house to point out quorum. Announcing that the house was not in order due to lack of quorum, Mr Suri started reading out prorogation order of the president, indicating that the government had finally decided not to pursue the constitution amendment bill.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Qureshi strongly criticised the opposition for creating noises in the house. “We have shown patience and respect. But if this is the attitude, then this house cannot function in this way,” he said.
“Enough is enough. If the house will not function, then it will not function. They [opposition members] have no manners and no traditions,” he went on saying.
The foreign minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had “promised the introduction of reforms” and this was the reason the government had moved the constitution amendment bill. He said the bill was aimed at bringing to an end to horse-trading in the Senate polls.
“How can a member of the Senate who can be bought and sold be relied upon to defend the nation’s interests,” he wondered.
The minister admitted that the government didn’t have the two-thirds majority it needed but despite that it had moved the bill and by doing so it had exposed the “flag-bearers of the Charter of Democracy (CoD)”.
Mr Qureshi, who was in the PPP when the CoD was signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in London in 2006, said the two parties had agreed in the CoD that the Senate polls should be held in a transparent manner, but now they were running away from it.
The minister said he had heard that the PPP wanted to bring a former prime minister to Senate and had “also decided to make someone Senate chairman”. He alleged that since the PPP did not have the required seats in the Punjab Assembly, it wanted to do horse-trading.
Mr Qureshi asked why the opposition parties, who insisted on the introduction of election reforms to ensure free and fair elections and agreed that “there should be open balloting”, had moved away from their stance today.
“The nation can now see how they’ve changed colours like a chameleon. They don’t want [this bill to pass] because they are used to buying and selling [their] conscience,” he said, alleging that the opposition wanted to uphold “corrupt practices” to fill up their treasury boxes.
Fawad Chaudhry said the PPP and PML-N didn’t want this bill to pass because they wanted to keep the Senate a “millionaires club”. He said these parties had still not taken action against their members who had voted in support of Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in the no-confidence motion against him in August 2019, despite making an announcement in this regard.
The science minister alleged that the PML-N had taken $10 million from Osama bin Laden to move a no-confidence motion against former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. “They even ate up that money,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2021