Several dissident MNAs from the ruling PTI came out in the open on Thursday and were found staying at the Sindh House in Islamabad, with Raja Riaz and Malik Nawab Sher Waseer saying they would vote on the no-confidence motion tabled against Prime Minister Imran Khan in "accordance with their conscience".
TV footage showed several other lawmakers from the ruling PTI — including MNAs Noor Alam Khan, Basit Bukhari and Wajiha Qamar — staying at the facility, giving a clear indication which side they would be tilting towards in the upcoming vote that will decide the fate of the prime minister.
Riaz, who is a member of the Jahangir Tareen group, spoke to Geo News senior anchor Hamid Mir and said there were around 24 PTI lawmakers staying at the Sindh House, citing fears of government action against them similar to the March 10 raid by police on Parliament Lodges.
He further said that if PM Imran gave the guarantee that no police action would be taken against the MNAs irrespective of their decision regarding the vote, he was ready to move to Parliament Lodges from the Sindh House.
"All of the media and the nation knows that the police attacked the lodges and our opposition MNA was tortured and taken to the police station. After that, we — those who had been dissenting for a long time against inflation, corruption, the SAPMs and the lawlessness, and had been raising our voice in front of Khan sahab — felt that the incident that happened in the Lodges could also happen with us, and this is why we are here," Riaz told Samaa News anchor Nadeem Malik.
"No one has given us any money. God willing, we will give our vote based on our conscience. We are not afraid of anyone. We are here only as a precautionary measure."
'Can't think of accepting even a rupee in bribe'
Last month, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry alleged that three PTI MNAs had been offered bribes to support the opposition's planned no-confidence motion in the parliament.
When asked if he had taken Rs200 million to switch allegiance, Riaz chuckled and replied: "I cannot think of accepting even a rupee."
Another PTI MNA, Noor Alam Khan, said that he was "very disappointed" to know of allegations being levelled against dissident lawmakers. "When we came to Imran Khan sahab and had voted for him, were we given Rs200m then? When we voted for the speaker did we get 200m then?"
He appealed to the chief justice of Pakistan, chief justice of Islamabad High Court, chief election commissioner and the Islamabad district administration to ensure that every MNA, irrespective of who he wants to vote for, is provided protection to reach the National Assembly for the no-confidence vote.
When asked whether he would go the parliament on the day of voting, he replied, "Definitely. It is my right."
3 federal ministers have left PTI, claims Dr Kumar
Another MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani revealed what led him to swap the Parliament Lodges for Sindh House. He recalled that a pair of men from the PTI recently came to the Lodges and accused him of "being a traitor to the party" and even threatened to vandalise his cars.
"This happened the day before yesterday at the Parliament Lodges. They were from the PTI. I wasn't there at the time but my wife informed me."
"Then I approached Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah through someone and told him that I wanted a room at Sindh House. Murad Ali Shah said all rooms were booked but I told him my problem was genuine.
"When I came here, I saw a completely different environment. There are around 24 MNAs ... most are joining the PML-N, two to three are joining the PML-Q, and two to three are going elsewhere.
"And three federal ministers have left [the PTI]," he added.
Another PTI MNA at Sindh House who also aired his grievances against the party was Basit Bukhari.
Meanwhile, MNA Malik Nawab Sher Waseer, while speaking to senior anchor Hamid Mir, said he would not contest the next general elections on a PTI ticket.
A day earlier, the government claimed the opposition had detained some ruling party lawmakers at Sindh House ahead of the vote after a statement by Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi that around a dozen MNAs belonging to the PTI had 'gone missing'.
The premier said in a public address on Wednesday that opposition leaders were sitting in Sindh House with "heaps of money" to purchase loyalties of treasury lawmakers and had asked the election commission to take action against the alleged horse-trading.
PPP leader Faisal Karim Kundi had earlier confirmed the stay of some lawmakers at Sindh House during a press conference with PPP MNA Shazia Marri. "Every member has a right to stay there. These members are from the opposition and our allies," he had said, adding that MNAs had been kept there as they feared they could be kidnapped ahead of the no-trust vote.
Govt planning 'strong action'
Earlier today, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government was "planning strong action" against alleged horse-trading and detention of MNAs at Sindh House.
In a video shared by the PTI on Twitter, he said the government has received information that a large amount of money had been shifted to Sindh House, which he termed the "capital of horse-trading at the moment".
"Information has been received that a lot of money has been shifted to Sindh House, police have been called to detain people and it is the horse-trading capital right now. It is very unfortunate. We had gotten rid of this menace with great difficulty.
"The way marketplaces have been set up is against the Constitution and tantamount to playing with the country's future. This is why we are planning strong action on this," the minister said.
However, Chaudhry's statement contradicted Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid who said the government is "not taking any action against anyone right now".
Addressing a ceremony in Islamabad earlier on Thursday, Chaudhry also claimed that lawmakers' votes were being bought and sold at Sindh House.
"The kind of bidding that is happening, the way conscience is being sold ... I tell these people to beware of the time that [Prime Minister] Imran Khan calls on us and youngsters to stop the horse-trading ourselves," he added.
MNAs being 'threatened'
Meanwhile, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari claimed that MNAs had been "threatened with violence, arrests and dire consequences" if they participated in the no-confidence vote.
"Their lives, liberty and family are under threat. MNAs will take any and all means for their own protection against this fascist regime," he said, vowing that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the PPP would protect the lawmakers.
Bilawal said the opposition did "not want anarchy" in Islamabad in view of the upcoming meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) foreign ministers meeting next week, warning the government to "not provoke us".