National Assembly still in tumult as both sides remain unchastened

Published June 17, 2021
ISLAMABAD: PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari along with party leaders hold a meeting at the opposition leader’s chamber on Wednesday.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif and PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari along with party leaders hold a meeting at the opposition leader’s chamber on Wednesday.—White Star

• Speaker bans entry of four opposition, three PTI members
• Shehbaz’s speech interrupted again by sloganeering
• Opposition to move no-trust motion against Qaiser

ISLAMABAD: All hectic but delayed efforts by Speaker Asad Qaiser to bring back normalcy to the National Assembly proved futile, as legislators on both sides of the aisle continued their noisy protest in the house when the treasury members again interrupted the budget speech of leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif through sloganeering for a third consecutive day.

The speaker, who had come to the house after meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan and banning the entry of seven unruly members including three from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), later announced that he would not run the house till the time an understanding was reached between the government and the opposition over a strategy for the ongoing budget session asking each side to nominate six representatives for their inclusion in a parliamentary committee for the purpose.

However, the speaker’s actions of banning the lawmakers’ entry, separate phone calls to Mr Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and his offer to form a parliamentary committee for further action against troublemakers could not pacify the angry opposition, which decided not to hold any talks with the government and announced moving a no-confidence motion against him.

The opposition had already moved a no-confidence motion against NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri for allegedly bulldozing legislation in the house last week.

Sources said the voting on the no-trust motion against the deputy speaker would be held on Friday (tomorrow).

The speaker had to suspend the proceedings when Mr Sharif, protected by the sergeants-at-arms making a human wall between the two sides, had spoken only for five minutes or so after an unidentified opposition member from the backbenches threw a sanitiser bottle at the treasury benches that hit PTI MNA from Karachi Akram Cheema.

“Who has hit him? Expel him from the house. Please note down (the name). I can’t run the house this way. Mian Sahib this is not the way,” Speaker Qaiser said before suspending the house for 15 minutes.

Later, the speaker came to the house and adjourned the sitting till Thursday noon.

Before announcing the adjournment, the chair said the opposition had so far not nominated any of its members for inclusion in a parliamentary committee to ensure smooth conduct of the proceedings during the budget session.

Earlier the session resumed nearly two hours behind the schedule mainly due to the hectic activities and political engagements outside the assembly that had witnessed unprecedented scenes on Tuesday when the members had come to the blows, used abusive language and attacked each other with books and budgetary documents, causing injury to some members and security personnel.

The speaker then announced that he had banned the entry of seven members and suspended further proceedings.

“Whatever happened on June 14 and 15 is regrettable. The members who used inappropriate and unparliamentary language have insulted the whole house,” Mr Qaiser said, adding that he had taken action against some of them.

He said PML-N leader Rana Tanvir had demanded action against more members by setting up a parliamentary committee. He said he was ready to take action against other members only if evidence was provided. Without giving floor to the opposition leader to complete his speech, he suspended the proceedings asking the treasury and the opposition members to sit together.

Earlier, the National Assembly Secretariat issued the Speaker’s order stating that the MNAs’ conduct during Mr Sharif’s budget speech on June 14 and June 15 was “grossly disorderly”.

The members whose entry has been banned till further orders are Ali Gohar, Chaudhary Hamid Hameed and Sheikh Rohale Asghar of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Agha Rafiullah of the PPP, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Ali Nawaz Awan, Faheem Khan and Abdul Majeed Khan of the PTI.

Over an hour later when the house resumed the speaker gave floor to Mr Sharif and asked him to complete his speech.

Surrounded by sergeants, the opposition leader said it was the speaker’s duty to maintain the sanctity of the house and run it in accordance with the law.

“I want to inform [the house] that it was the decision of our party and the opposition that if the opposition’s speeches were heard peacefully, we would reciprocate and listen to the speech of the leader of the house [Prime Minister] Imran Khan,” he said.

“I am saddened by your [speaker’s] helplessness,” Mr Sharif said and alleged that the treasury members had repeatedly disrupted the proceedings on the PM directive. He asked the speaker not to make any complaint to the opposition if “it does not do what I and you expect from it to do” when the prime minister arrived in the house.

Meanwhile, the PPP chairman met Mr Sharif at the latter’s chamber and discussed the prevailing situation. Later, a meeting of the combined opposition was also held in which they decided to bring a no-confidence motion against the speaker.

Opposition’s letter

The opposition also wrote a letter to the speaker, saying “it cannot have any confidence in his impartiality or ability to run the house according to parliamentary norms and traditions, unless he initiates immediate action to fix responsibility of the appalling events that unfolded during the speech of Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif, and takes exemplary action against those found guilty.”

The opposition members, in their letter, stated: “The speaker after witnessing all this inexplicably adjourned the sitting and left the chair on three separate occasions (on June 15).”

The letter, a copy of which was released to the media, stated: “This was the first occasion in the history of the National Assembly of Pakistan, and possibly parliamentary history worldwide that the treasury MNAs and government ministers defied the speaker and physically attacked the opposition.”

They accused the speaker of turning a blind eye and remaining silent on the violence and abuse that unfolded before his eyes.

They said the decision of withdrawal of seven MNAs from the assembly precincts “does not even come close to recognising the gravity of these events, it is in violation of the rules and is not acceptable.”

Signed by leaders of all opposition parties, the letter stated: “It is unfortunate that the Leader of the House has been absent and silent over these events. In fact it is inconceivable that such behaviour by the treasury members could have taken place without his consent.”

PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn that the speaker did not have the courage to take action against ministers, including Ali Amin Gandapur and Murad Saeed, who were leading the treasury members in their attack on the opposition leader and the members.

Later in a statement, Ms Aurangzeb said in his pre-budget cabinet meeting, instead of ordering measures to curb inflation and taxes, the prime minister ordered attack on Mr Sharif and the opposition.

She said right after walking out of that cabinet meeting, the ministers had come to the parliament with a single-point agenda of “cursing, attacking and interrupting Mr Sharif’s speech.”

The prime minister wanted to cover up his “incompetence” by supporting and encouraging abusive language and the indecent conduct of his members, said PPP chairman Bhutto-Zardari in a statement. He alleged that the government legislators had violated the sanctity of the house by adopting a “shameful and intolerable attitude” in the parliament.

Earlier in the day, women parliamentarians of the ruling PTI led by Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul and Parliamentary Secretary for Law Maleeka Bokhari told a news conference that the opposition members had started using abusive language and throwing books and documents on the treasury members.

They demanded that the opposition leaders apologise to them over their behavior.

Ms Bokhari, who had been hit by some object during the hooliganism on Tuesday, addressed the news conference with a bandage on her left eye.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan has convened a meeting of the parliamentary party on Thursday (today) to discuss the strategy for the budget session and vote of no-confidence against the deputy speaker.

Sources said the PTI leadership was considering asking all party legislators to skip the National Assembly sitting during the secret voting on the no-trust motion.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2021

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