• PM gets 178 votes, two more than his previous score
• Asks ECP to get a briefing from intelligence agencies
• Allies demand role in decision-making process
ISLAMABAD: Three days after giving its verdict in favour of opposition’s candidate Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in the hotly-contested election on a Senate seat from Islamabad, the National Assembly on Saturday expressed its confidence in Prime Minister Imran Khan, even giving him two votes more than what he had polled at the time of his election in 2018.
While the voting process on the resolution moved by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reposing “confidence in the prime minister as required under Clause 7 of Article 91” remained smooth amid boycott of the session by the opposition, violence erupted outside the Parliament House as leaders of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and charged Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) workers clashed after gathering at the same D-Chowk where Mr Khan while in the opposition had staged a 126-day-long sit-in seven years ago to protest the alleged rigging in the 2013 elections.
In his 50-minute speech, Prime Minister Khan later thanked the lawmakers belonging to the PTI and allied parties for reposing confidence in him, castigated the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for allegedly failing to conduct the Senate election in a transparent manner, made personal attacks on the opposition leadership, including Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, vowed to continue the ongoing accountability process and bring about election reforms through introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Mr Khan, who had become prime minister with 176 votes in the 342-member lower house of the parliament in August 2018, secured 178 votes – six more than the required 172 votes for attaining a simple majority – after managing the full attendance of the lawmakers belonging to the PTI and allied parties, including the PML-Q, Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) and Awami Muslim League (AML).
“Prime Minister Imran Khan had been elected to the post with 176 votes three years ago and today, he has secured 178 votes,” announced Speaker Asad Qaiser after conducting the vote through division method amid desk-thumping and loud sloganeering by the treasury members as well as by those sitting in the galleries.
The number of votes indicated the ruling alliance with 180 members is completely intact as the speaker could not cast his vote whereas senator-elect Faisal Vawda, who resigned from the assembly on March 3 after polling his vote in the Senate election in an apparent move to avoid his possible disqualification for hiding his dual nationality while contesting the 2018 elections, saw the proceedings from the gallery.
Mr Khan had volunteered to seek assembly’s confidence in response to the joint opposition demand for his resignation after the defeat of Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in the much-hyped March 3 poll for the Senate seat.
The opposition parties boycotted the proceedings terming the assembly session “illegal and unnecessary”, claiming that the Senate results proved that the PM had lost the confidence of the members of his own party and that he was forcibly seeking this confidence vote.
It was a rare occasion to see the session beginning on time as members arrived in the Parliament House early in the morning where a lavish breakfast had been arranged for them.
The opposition members belonging to the component parties of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) witnessed the assembly proceedings at the nearby Sindh House where Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari hosted a lunch for them.
Some treasury members placed currency-note garlands and placards inscribed with slogans Note Ko Izzat Dau (Give respect to money) on the chair of opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif to mock the PML-N’s slogan Vote Ko Izzat Dau (Give respect to vote).
Independent MNA from the country’s erstwhile tribal areas Mohsin Dawar and lone Jamaat-i-Islami MNA Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, the two opposition members who are not part of the PDM, however, attended the proceedings. When Maulana Chitrali left the assembly hall before the voting process started, Mr Dawar remained in the House and was seen chatting with Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak in a pleasant mood.
A PTI MNA from Muzaffargarh Makhdoom Basit Sultan, who was absent from the Friday’s parliamentary party meeting of the ruling PTI, was seen talking to the prime minister who later patted his back, indicating he had accepted his explanation.
The chief ministers of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, all the four governors, senators belonging to the ruling PTI and some of the MPAs from Punjab and KP also witnessed the assembly proceedings.
Addressing the House after securing the trust vote, the prime minister once again lashed out at the ECP and said that he was saddened to see the ECP’s statement in which it said the Senate election was conducted in a ‘good manner’.
He suggested the ECP to seek help from the intelligence agencies to find out how votes were allegedly sold and purchased in the Senate elections.
“I request the ECP to get a secret briefing from our [intelligence] agencies on what goes on behind the scenes in elections,” Mr Khan said, adding that it was embarrassing the way elections were held in Pakistan.
Calling ex-president Asif Zardari and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif “thieves and robbers”, PM Khan accused the two major opposition parties of blackmailing his government to stop it from proceeding against them in the corruption cases. He said the two parties had got the cases registered against each other in the past.
He said Mr Zardari was commonly referred to as ‘Aik Zardari sab pe bhaari’ and ‘Mr 10 per cent’ because of his corrupt practices, while Mr Gilani was ‘the most corrupt person’ in the country.
“Simply see his [Gilani’s] assets before he became the PM and after it. The picture will be clear,” he added.
Admitting that there is a price-hike in the country, he claimed that they were on a way to economic recovery as the current account deficit was improving constantly and the rupee was strengthening against the dollar. He said the biggest pressure he was facing was to tackle the price-hike, which was a result of the rupee devaluation.
Mr Khan claimed that the members of his party, including women lawmakers, received telephone calls with offers of huge money in return for their vote in the Senate elections. He, however, did not provide names of the receivers and the alleged callers, leaving it to the ECP to investigate.
Earlier, PTI legislator from Karachi and a TV celebrity Amir Liaquat recited poetry to pay tribute to Mr Khan soon after the speaker announced his ruling on the trust vote.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said he was not a malishiya (masseur) but could say it with full authority that he had never seen as much hard-working prime minister in his life as Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Mr Khan, however, expressed his displeasure over the minister’s remarks, prompting the speaker to ask Mr Ahmed to take his words back, which he did.
MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui asked the prime minister to fulfill his promises to his party and the country and demanded that the allies should also be included in decision-making. He said nearly 100 MQM workers were still missing and it was not possible for him not to complain about it to the prime minister.
GDA lawmaker Fehmida Mirza endorsed the demand of Mr Siddiqui and criticised the ECP for allegedly failing to guard the process against “corrupt practices” during the Senate polls.
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2021