The much-anticipated session of the National Assembly with a crucial no-confidence motion — filed by the opposition against Prime Minister Imran Khan — on the agenda was adjourned till March 28 (Monday) without tabling of the resolution.
The ruling PTI's Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Shireen Mazari, Asad Umar and Ali Muhammad Khan were among those attending the session, as well as Grand Democratic Alliance's Dr Fehmida Mirza.
From the opposition ranks, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, PPP Chairman Bilalwal Bhutto-Zardari and PPP co-chair Asif Ali Zardari, were also present.
Reportedly, over 150 opposition lawmakers and around 50 treasury members attended the session. However, the exact numbers could not be ascertained.
The session began with the recitation of the Holy Quran and prayers for late MNA Khayal Zaman, former president Rafiq Tarar and Senator Rehman Malik. However, NA speaker Asad Qaiser announced that it would be adjourned in light of parliamentary convention.
It is parliamentary convention that the first sitting after the death of an MNA is limited to prayers for the soul of the departed and tributes fellow lawmakers wish to pay them.
Qaiser stated that according to tradition, the agenda is deferred to the next day when a member of the lower house passes. "This has happened for years," he said, adding that this had happened a total of 24 times in the past.
He once again asserted that he would conduct proceedings "as per rules and procedures" after which he adjourned the session till 4pm on March 28.
The National Assembly Secretariat had on Thursday issued a 15-point ‘Orders of the Day’ for the NA session, which included the no-confidence resolution.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who had earlier told Dawn that there was no plan to adjourn the session, took to Twitter to state that "nothing would happen" during today's sitting.
The opposition had submitted the motion and requisition for the session to the NA Secretariat on March 8. Under the Constitution, the speaker was bound to hold the session within 14 days. However, he did not summon the session until March 21 [the 14th day], which is now set to commence from today.
Voting on the resolution will be held at least three to seven days after it has been laid before the National Assembly.
'Speaker has become Imran Khan's stooge'
Addressing a press conference outside Parliament House shortly after the session was adjourned, Shehbaz launched a scathing attacking on Qaiser, calling him a "stooge" of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The PML-N president said that Qaiser violated the rules of procedures by conducting proceedings as "a PTI worker".
He stated that the motion and requisition for the session was submitted on March 8 and, under the rules, the NA speaker was supposed to summon the session within 14 days. "This was a constitutional obligation and he violated the Constitution by not doing this," he said.
Shehbaz also called for the speaker to be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution, which deals with high treason.
"After the Fateha khwani, I stood up to speak on a point of order but my microphone was not turned on," he claimed. He accepted that parliamentary convention dictated that the session would be limited to prayers for the departed, but added that today was "an important day".
"The Constitution and the law is above tradition and voting should have been allowed [...] tradition aside, the speaker should have taken up the motion [but] he did not listen and left."
Shehbaz declared that if the same was done during the next session, the opposition would use all "constitutional, political and legal" options to take the no-trust move forward.
Later in a tweet, he said that the NA speaker "continues to trample upon constitutional provisions".
"This partisan behaviour does not suit the custodian of the house. Adjournment of NA session is part of desperate efforts to disrupt no-confidence process," he said. "You cannot stop the inevitable through such underhand tactics!"
Bilawal claimed that the premier was "fleeing the pitch" and reiterated that Qaiser had violated the Constitution. However, the PPP chairman asserted that opposition parties were united and would not let the premier "run away".
"The no-trust motion is going to be our democratic weapon. We will move towards free and fair elections," he said, adding that the prime minister had lost "his majority and government".
He later added that Qaiser had provided a "weak excuse" to avoid tabling the no-trust move. "Imran can’t run forever. The PM has no sportsman sprit and cannot face defeat with grace. The once great Kaptaan will go down like a rat on a sinking ship," he said.
Separately, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi demanded an apology from Shehbaz for his tirade against the NA speaker
"The words you have used against Asad Qaiser are inappropriate and I want you to retract the remarks immediately," he said, adding that the speaker was responsible for conducting proceedings in whatever manner he sees fit.
He also refuted claims that the government was "running away" from the no-confidence motion. "We will deal with it in a democratic, political, and legal way."
Responding to a question from a journalist, the minister that the opposition was set to receive another surprise on March 27.
'Ruckus if resolution is not tabled today'
Opposition leaders had also gathered for a meeting prior to the session during which, according to the PPP, "important instructions" were given to lawmakers.
Zardari, who was hounded by reporters as he made his way inside the Parliament House, had appeared to be confident.
"All eyes are on you. You have previous experience. How confident are you?" asked one reporter.
"God willing, if my Maula wants, 100 per cent," he replied. He had added that the opposition would "create a ruckus" if the NA speaker did not allow the motion to be tabled.
He had also brushed aside concerns that "undemocratic powers" could take advantage of the situation. "We have a strategy for that: If you are so interested, then you are most welcome."
His son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, was also all smiles and told reporters that the no-confidence motion had been included in today's agenda.
"Going forward, the people will win and the 'selected' will face defeat. Winning and losing are in the hands of God [but] we are working hard," he said.
Asked what would happen in case the motion is not taken up, he said: "See how we manage it [...] we are completely prepared."
Shehbaz said that the opposition would exercise its right to table the motion during today's session. However, if the motion is not tabled, then we will consult among ourselves, he said.
Guidelines issued for MNAs
Meanwhile, the NA speaker had on Thursday issued guidelines for MNAs in view of strict security arrangements being made for the session.
According to the speaker’s notification: “No visitor/guest/security guard of the ministers/parliamentarians will be allowed in the precincts of Parliament House and it would be advisable to restrict them up to D-Chowk, in front of Parliament Lodges.”
To avoid traffic congestion, a shuttle service will operate between Parliament Lodges, government hostels and Parliament House to facilitate members of parliament, the order said.
It said personal drivers of parliamentarians were required to park their vehicles at the designated parking area and not to leave the vehicle unattended. Security agencies deputed at the Parliament House have also been instructed to make arrangements accordingly and ensure the implementation of the speaker’s instructions.