ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Tuesday literally turned into a battleground as the opposition and treasury members scuffled with each other and used budget documents and books as rockets when the latter continued their noisy protest to disrupt the budget speech of Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif for the second consecutive day.
Speaker Asad Qaiser suspended the proceedings of the house three times when the treasury members, led by some of the senior ministers who had come directly to the house after attending the weekly cabinet meeting, refused to pay any heed to his directives to stay calm and kept on sloganeering, whistling and desk-thumping as Shehbaz Sharif, who had been surrounded by his party members to avoid any physical contact with the treasury MNAs, also continued his speech.
The speaker announced first suspension of the proceedings for 40 minutes when Ali Nawaz Awan, who is also special assistant to the prime minister, threw a book towards the opposition benches, which came back to him.
The proceedings of the house resumed after over two dozen sergeants-at-arms made a human wall separating the treasury and opposition members and bifurcating the assembly hall into two camps. It was an unprecedented scene, indeed, even for those who have been covering the parliamentary proceedings for decades.
As soon as Shehbaz Sharif took the floor and started lashing out at the government for its economic policies, the treasury members again stood up and started whistling, desk-thumping and chanting slogans like chor, chor (thief, thief), daku, daku (robber, robber) and “TT, TT”, a reference to the term “telegraphic transfer” often used for money laundering in the country.
Budget documents used by parliamentarians as rockets; speaker orders inquiry into rowdyism
When an undeterred Sharif continued his speech, some of the treasury members were seen advancing towards the opposition benches, but they were prevented from doing so by the security staff. At this stage, the treasury members started throwing the books and documents at the opposition members, who also responded in the same coin. Some of the members, including Ali Nawaz Awan, were seen and heard using abusive and filthy language. Many members from both sides raised slogans while standing on their chairs.
The opposition members sitting on back benches also responded to the treasury members with slogans like lathi goli ki sarkar nahi chale gi, go Niazi go, aata chor, cheeni chor and gali main shor hai, Aleema Baji chor hai. Aleema Khan is the sister of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the opposition alleges that she had not declared her assets and their money trail.
Parliamentary Secretary for Law Maleeka Bokhari was hit by a flying object and received injury to her eye. She later received first aid at the Parliament House dispensary. Besides Ms Bokhari, some MNAs also complained that they had received bruises during the scuffle.
However, the sandwiched sergeants-at-arms faced the brunt of the fight between the treasury and opposition members as they were hit by the books and flying objects.
The treasury members who were in the forefront in creating disturbance in the house were the PTI MNAs from Karachi, including Faheem Khan, and Ali Nawaz Awan and Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur. The speaker many times took the name of Faheem Khan, asking him to go back to his seat, but he remained adamant.
At one stage, Faheem Khan physically pushed security personnel, apparently in an attempt to attack PML-N MNA from Toba Tek Singh Chaudhry Khalid Javed, who was challenging the treasury members from the other side. Some of the members also threw mikes at each other.
Interestingly, all this happened in the presence of a number of senior cabinet members like Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umer, Shafqat Mahmood, Fawad Chaudhry, Ali Muhammad Khan, Ali Amin Gandapur, Murad Saeed and Shireen Mazari, who not only made no attempt to stop their protesting members, but also participated and encouraged them to create rumpus, thus confirming that it was an official policy of the government to not allow the opposition leader to deliver the budget speech.
Members of the other opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, including its chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, remained seated and silently watched the action-filled proceedings.
The speaker had to suspend the proceedings for the third and last time when he saw the sergeants-at-arms failing to prevent the members from the two sides getting physical. Seeing the situation getting worse, a number of PML-N members had already escorted Shehbaz Sharif out of the hall even before the suspension announcement by the speaker.
The members continued throwing the documents and other articles at each other for nearly 10 minutes even after the suspension of the proceedings. They stopped only when lights of the hall were switched off.
When the power returned, the assembly staff was seen cleaning the hall by removing the books, documents and other objects that had been thrown by the members at each other. The proceedings remained suspended for more than an hour and the speaker returned to the house only to announce adjournment of the sitting till 2pm on Wednesday (today).
Shehbaz Sharif is yet to complete his opening speech on the federal budget that was presented by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin amid the opposition’s noisy protest on June 11.
It is worth mentioning that the representatives of all parties had during a meeting of the House Business Advisory Committee on Monday already finalised the strategy for the budget session. It was agreed that the present session would continue till June 30 and the budget would be presented for approval on June 29. It was also decided that the debate would continue for 40 hours and the finance minister would wind it up on June 24.
After adjourning the proceedings, Speaker Asad Qaiser through his official social media account on Twitter announced that he had ordered an inquiry into the events that took place during the assembly proceedings and “the members using unparliamentary language will not be allowed to enter the house tomorrow (Wednesday)”. “The unparliamentary attitude and use of indecent language by the members of both the opposition and the treasury members is condemnable and disappointing,” he tweeted.
It may be recalled that the speaker had previously too issued show cause notices to a number of treasury and opposition members for rowdyism, but took no action against them.
Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry had already declared that they would not allow Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to deliver speeches without first having a ‘written guarantee’ that they would hear speeches of Prime Minister Imran Khan and ministers silently.
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 16th, 2021