PM’s aide rubbishes presidential system talk

Published June 24, 2021
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan speaks during the National Assembly session on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan speaks during the National Assembly session on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter

• Ex-PM Abbasi calls for taking parliament into confidence on key foreign policy issues
• Saad says opposition won’t send govt packing through sit-ins

ISLAMABAD: While maintaining aggressive posture against each other in the National Assembly, the government and the opposition on Wednesday appeared to be defending the existing parliamentary democracy in the country, as a cabinet member ruled out any move towards imposition of presidential system and a key opposition leader assured the rulers that they would not be sent packing through sit-ins.

Taking part in the general discussion on the federal budget for a sixth day, the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mostly delivered political speeches and continued attacking each other’s leadership.

“It is said that presidential system is being enforced in the country. They (the opposition) also say it repeatedly that we want to repeal the 18th Constitution Amendment. I refute both (the claims),” said Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan while taking part in the budget debate.

He explained that the government did not have a two-thirds majority in the parliament required to roll back the 18th Constitution Amendment. “These are opposition’s stunts,” said Mr Awan.

The adviser was responding to the speech made earlier in the day by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in which he had asked the assembly to pass a resolution against the presidential system to block such a move on a permanent basis.

The PML-N leader had stated that the presidential form of government was not practicable in Pakistan, recalling that the country had dismembered when there was a presidential system.

The adviser blamed opposition for the hostile atmosphere in the assembly alleging that PML-N had always done confrontational politics. He then asked the PML-N members to ask their supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, who had been living in a self-exile in London, to return to the country.

“Do not talk through Skype. If you will talk ‘against Pakistan’ while sitting abroad, the people would know that you cannot face them,” Mr Awan said, adding that the masses had rejected those (apparently in reference to Muttahida Qaumi Movement founder Altaf Hussain) who used to speak more than the PML-N supremo. He said Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif had guaranteed that he would bring back his elder brother to the country, but it never happened. He termed it a “joke with the courts and the parliament”.

The adviser was critical of the opposition’s move to hold an all parties conference (APC) on the issue of electoral reforms, saying the parliament was the only forum that could decide about any legislation.

“No APC or any other institution can do legislation,” he said, while criticising the opposition over their alleged non-cooperation in the parliament and the committees on important legislations, including the electoral reforms.

The adviser regretted that the opposition was opposing the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and the right of vote to the overseas Pakistanis.

Responding to Mr Awan’s speech, PML-N’s Nousheen Iftikhar, who had recently returned to the assembly after defeating PTI’s candidate in the Daska by-election, said a person who could not even win a councillor seat was lecturing them on the electoral reforms.

PML-N’s firebrand MNA from Lahore Khawaja Saad Rafique said he personally believed they had committed a mistake by not accepting the proposal of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that they should not take oath as MNAs after the 2018 general elections.

Criticising the government for alleged political victimisation of the opposition, Mr Rafique predicted that Imran Khan, too, would meet the same fate that 18 former prime ministers of the country had met. If those who had built motorways and airports of the country were being called ‘thieves’ by the PTI supporters, he said, what should they call the leaders who were mortgaging the national assets. “This is the question to those who have brought them,” he said.

“The prime minister says that the opposition is inciting the army. Which politician has incited the army? We will not remove the government through sit-ins. Get rid of this fear,” he said while asking the government to make efforts to reduce tension and hatred.

He suggested the ruling party leaders that their corruption mantra would work no more.

Earlier in his speech, ex-PM Abbasi said the finance minister claimed that the country had a bumper wheat crop but the federal cabinet had approved import of 27 million tonnes of the crop.

In an apparent reference to the speeches made by ministers Asad Umar, Hammad Azhar and Omar Ayub, the PML-N leader said those people were giving lectures on economy and energy who had been relieved of their portfolios due to “incompetence”.

The former prime minister called for taking the parliament into confidence on key foreign policy issues, including Kashmir issue, Afghanistan situation and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“We come to know about our foreign policy through foreign media and articles published in them. To know our foreign policy, we will now have to read the foreign media,” concluded Mr Abbasi in his apparent reference to the recent interviews of Prime Minister Imran Khan to foreign correspondents in which he talked about the country’s nuclear programme and peace process in Afghanistan.

Without naming anyone, Mr Abbasi said there were people sitting in the house and even in the federal cabinet who did not pay taxes despite having a lavish lifestyle. He said a parliament whose members did not pay taxes had no “legal and moral” justification to impose taxes on the people.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2021

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