Opposition ‘walks back’ threat to disrupt OIC meeting

Published March 20, 2022
OPPOSITION Leader Shehbaz Sharif talks to the media on Saturday. PDM head Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari are also seen.—Tanveer Shahzad
OPPOSITION Leader Shehbaz Sharif talks to the media on Saturday. PDM head Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari are also seen.—Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: Hours after threatening to take the extreme step of disrupting the all-important meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in case National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser did not put the no-confidence resolution against Prime Minister Imran Khan on the day’s agenda by Monday (tomorrow), the joint opposition toned down its stance by stressing that Pakistan’s political turmoil will not be allowed to affect the event in any way.

Though the opposition did not make a categorical announcement withdrawing its threat to stage a sit-in inside the National Assembly, the venue of the OIC event, it assured the foreign ministers of the Muslim countries that upon their arrival and during their stay in Islamabad, “a conducive atmosphere in accordance with the traditional spirit of hospitality, respect and zeal would be ensured”.

The assurance was given by the joint opposition through a statement released to the media on Saturday night by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb, around five hours after the opposition leaders’ press conference where they had announced staging a sit-in inside the National Assembly hall ahead of the OIC meeting, if the speaker did not include the resolution on the agenda of the sitting to be called on Monday (tomorrow).

The threat had been hurled by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and was immediately endorsed by PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif. Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) president Maulana Fazlur Rehman and chief of his own faction of Balochistan National Party (BNP), Akhtar Mengal, were also present.

Leaders had warned of sit-in in NA if no-trust move not placed on agenda

The joint opposition, however, in its statement later said it would warmly welcome the foreign ministers, delegates and other dignitaries of the Islamic world to Pakistan on the occasion of the 48th meeting of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, adding “the arrival of distinguished guests is a source of joy and pride for us”.

“The opposition pledges to do its utmost to create an atmosphere in which the distinguished guests will be able to carry out their activities with full attention, dedication and determination,” said the statement.

Bilawal’s clarification

Later, Zulfikar Ali Bader, the spokesperson for Bilawal, also issued a clarification of sorts, declaring the PPP chairman was not against the OIC meeting, “but against the government’s escape from the no-confidence motion”.

“If the NA speaker delays the no-confidence motion under the guise of the OIC meeting, then there will be a reaction,” he said.

Mr Bader said PM Khan wanted to postpone the no-confidence motion till April under the garb of the OIC conference “but we will not allow Imran Khan to do so”.

Sources in the opposition told Dawn that after their news conference, their leadership met again and reviewed their announcement after receiving a reaction, not only from the government, but also from some public and other circles, as there was a general view that any attempts to disrupt the OIC event would bring a bad name to the country.

Earlier, during the news conference, Mr Bhutto-Zardari had stated that if the speaker did not introduce the no-confidence resolution in the assembly immediately after offering fateha (for a deceased PTI MNA) on Monday (tomorrow) then “my plea to my own party and the opposition parties will be that we will not leave the hall”.

“We will see how you will organise the OIC meeting,” he had stated about the gathering for which even the corps commanders in their last meeting had declared that it would be provided complete security and protection.

The PPP chairman’s remarks were endorsed by Mr Sharif, who said if the speaker did not run the house after offering prayers, “we will be compelled to stage a sit-in inside the assembly hall”.

The threats from the opposition had come amid reports that the government was planning to call the assembly session on Monday afternoon (tomorrow) on the requisition of the opposition, and that the speaker would adjourn it for three to four days due to Pakistan Day and OIC meetings after offering fateha for the departed soul of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA from Hangu Khayal Zaman.

Parliamentary tradition

As per parliamentary tradition, the House does not take up any agenda on the first sitting held after the death of any member. Since this will be the first sitting after Mr Zaman’s death, it is expected the speaker may announce a prolonged adjournment after offering fateha.

Moreover, there are reports the government is planning to file a reference before the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday morning seeking interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution regarding disqualification of MNAs, and that the speaker may give a ruling during the sitting that since the matter is pending before the apex court, he could not put the no-trust resolution to vote.

Under Article 95 of the Constitution, the speaker cannot put a no-confidence resolution for a vote before three days and after seven days of its presentation before the House. The speaker, however, is bound to convene the assembly session by Monday, as the opposition had submitted the requisition notice to the National Assembly Secretariat on March 8, and he could not delay calling the session beyond 14 days.

Parliamentary history showed that the Lower House of parliament had on a number of occasions ignored the tradition of adjourning a sitting without taking up any agenda item due to the death of an MNA when something important was on the day’s plan. One such occasion came up on June 22, 2012 during the PPP government, when the National Assembly session had been convened for the election of a new prime minister after disqualification of Yousuf Raza Gilani. It was the first sitting of the House after the death of PPP MNA Fauzia Wahab, who had died on June 17.

The then speaker, Dr Fehmida Mirza -- now an ally of the PTI government -- had ignored the calls of the opposition to adjourn the sitting, and allowed the members to continue the election process after PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar argued that since it was not a regular session, therefore, the tradition should be ignored and voting allowed.

Interestingly, the plea to adjourn the sitting had been made by Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

During the presser on Saturday, Mr Bhutto-Zardari had said they also wanted the OIC meeting to take place. But, he said, “the only way for it to happen without any problems is that the speaker plays his due role”.

“He (the speaker) should think about the country, democracy and the OIC,” Bilawal stressed.

“If he begins the no-confidence proceedings on Monday, there would be no issues in the way of the OIC and we, too, will not have any objections,” he added.

Shehbaz Sharif said those coming to attend the OIC meeting were the guests of the nation. “But we will not allow you to go against the law and Constitution under the garb of this [OIC conference]. We will stage a sit-in then,” he had declared.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2022

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