PPP's Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Saturday was elected unopposed as the 22nd speaker of the National Assembly.
PML-N's Ayaz Sadiq, who was initially chairing the session, administered the oath on Ashraf. The PPP lawmaker was the lone contender for the speaker's position as no other candidate had submitted nomination papers against him.
The office of the speaker had fallen vacant after Asad Qaiser tendered his resignation in line with the PTI’s decision, minutes before the voting on the no-confidence resolution against then-prime minister Imran Khan.
Sitting in the speaker's chair, Ashraf gave a brief speech where he thanked his party leaders for deeming him worthy of the position. He also thanked Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the members of the assembly.
He said that a "new tradition" had been initiated in parliamentary history, adding that the speaker was the custodian of the house. He went on to say that for the past three years, the house had been "incomplete" as the former opposition went unheard.
"I consider it my duty to not to let the voice of the opposition get suppressed," he said, adding that it should be heard and respected. "There is a saying in English that the majority has its way but the opposition must have its say. We have to always keep this in mind."
During today's session, the assembly passed two resolutions: One recognised the services of late philanthropist Bilquis Edhi and the second condemned the attack on Punjab Assembly Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari by PTI lawmakers.
The session was later adjourned till noon on April 18 (Monday).
Resignations of PTI lawmakers
In his first order as speaker of the house, Ashraf directed the NA secretariat to deal with the en masse resignations of PTI lawmakers in light of past rulings and precedent. He ordered for them to be de-sealed and presented to him so that the matter could be taken forward in accordance with the law.
Speaker Ashraf took the decision after lawmakers called on him to verify the resignations submitted by the PTI MNAs earlier this week.
JUI-F's Asad Mehmood said that the members of the house were the representatives of the people. "We are the representatives of millions who have shown confidence in the fact that we will raise our voice for their rights. This is our first and foremost duty."
Commenting on the resignations by PTI lawmakers, he said that he had a hard time believing that one person could tell the people's representatives to resign.
He called on the NA speaker to ensure that the law and the Constitution were being followed in this regard. "Call each PTI member to your chamber and ask them whether they have resigned. The member who replies in the affirmative, their resignation should be accepted immediately."
He also called for asking members of the former federal cabinet, including Fawad Chaudhry and Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, about their reasons for resigning. "If someone has resigned, probe the resignation and then hold elections immediately so that their constituencies are represented."
PML-N's Sadiq, who returned to the treasury benches after administering the oath to the newly elected NA speaker, recalled how the PTI had tendered mass resignation in 2014 when he was the speaker of the lower house of parliament.
"We took help from the apex court," he said, recalling how this was opposed by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
"They and senior PML-N members asked why I was not accepting the resignations. But it was my duty to do what the law and the rules say," he said.
Sadiq told the house that he had received a call from nine PTI members in 2014. "They had said that if you are accepting resignations, we want to come to the assembly," he said. The PML-N leader added that he had issued notices to the lawmakers at the time and called them in one by one as it was a requirement to ensure that they had not resigned under pressure.
The PTI members, he claimed, came to the assembly but sat in the lounge and refused to "come individually and [verify their resignations]." Sadiq added that only one PTI member had individually submitted his resignation at the time.
Sadiq said that this time around, the resignations were on "cyclostyle paper". "According to the rules, they should be handwritten," he said, adding that the resignations also needed to be verified.
Once again referring to his time as the speaker in 2014, Sadiq recalled that Fazl and the MQM had moved a resolution to remove Imran Khan from the NA as he had remained absent from the house for 40 days.
"But we took measures to prevent the tabling of the motion as I was sure it would lead to criticism of Imran Khan and his family as he was also targeting others' families," Sadiq said.
"I did not want non-parliamentary language to be used in the assembly," he said, adding that the resolution was withdrawn when PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and PPP's Khursheed Shah had intervened.
He urged the NA speaker to make a decision in light of the judgments issued by the Islamabad High Court and the Supreme Court. "I have received calls from PTI members who said they didn't want to resign and are being pressured," Sadiq claimed.
Shehbaz, Bilawal and Asif congratulate Ashraf
PM Shehbaz congratulated Speaker Ashraf, saying that he was elected with the complete consensus of the house. "You are an eminent parliamentarian and have also served as the prime minister," he said.
The prime minister recalled that he had worked with the PPP leader in different roles. "I have no doubt that you will fulfil your duty in an exemplary manner [...] and you will lay to rest whatever took place during the last three-and-half years."
Taking the floor, PML-N's Khawaja Asif also congratulated Ashraf on his election. He remembered how Ashraf had dealt with his colleagues in a respectable manner when he was the prime minister.
Asif said parliament was bound to uphold the law and the Constitution. "The law and the Constitution will not be respected anywhere until they are respected in parliament."
The PML-N leader also regretted how the PTI and the PML-Q had attacked the deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly and the disruption in the process of electing the new chief minister of the province.
"When Pervez Elahi and Imran Khan saw that defeat was near, they disrespected the assembly hall in a manner never seen before. We have to end this tradition," he said, adding that the "trend of violence" must be stopped.
"It is embarrassing for us that a colleague was attacked. It is condemnable," he said, adding that tactics were being used to stop a constitutional and legal process. He called on the house to condemn the incident and demanded that the transition in Punjab be done according to the law and the Constitution.
When it was his turn to speak, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that the office of the NA speaker had been disrespected in the past, an apparent reference to the tenure of Asad Qaiser.
He lamented how the house was "made a joke" and the impact it had on the country's image. "We can't call ourselves patriotic Pakistanis until we defend the Constitution."
He said that ousting the "selected prime minister" was the first big success of the "united government". He went on to say that all institutions that were controversial in the past now had to make the transition toward becoming constitutional.
"If all institutions complete this transition, then there is no power in this world that can stop Pakistan's progress." He said all the political parties were looking toward the NA speaker in this regard. "You will go down in history if we succeed in this struggle."
Suri resigns as deputy speaker
The NA Secretariat had issued a four-point agenda for today's sitting that included voting on the no-confidence resolution against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, the election of the speaker and his oath-taking. However, Suri tendered his resignation less than an hour before the session was scheduled to begin.
Sadiq began the session by announcing that Suri had tendered his resignation, which was met by loud applause from the lawmakers present. He said that Suri's resignation had been verified by the NA secretariat, which would later issue the schedule for the election of the deputy speaker.
"Since the deputy speaker has resigned from office there is no need to take up agenda item two and three," he said.
Sharing a copy of his resignation on Twitter, Suri said his move signified his association with the vision of his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), and democracy.
"We will never compromise on Pakistan's sovereignty and integrity. We will fight for the country's interests and independence. We will go to any length to protect Pakistan," he tweeted.
PTI leader and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry lauded Suri, stating that the way in which he "fought against a foreign conspiracy" would go down in history. He added that Suri would be remembered as someone who was brave and loyal to the country.
Suri, who had also been functioning as the acting speaker following the resignation of Asad Qaiser, faced severe criticism in recent days over a contentious April 3 ruling to dismiss a no-confidence motion against former prime minister Imran Khan and his decision to defer the session scheduled for the NA speaker's election from April 16 to April 22 as a delaying tactic.
Earlier this week, he also came under fire for accepting the resignations of the PTI MNAs, who had quit the NA en masse right before the election of Shehbaz Sharif as the country's new prime minister following Khan's ouster. The PPP and PML-N accused Suri of pressuring the NA secretariat into accepting the resignations.
Merely three days before Shehbaz's election on April 11 and on the eve of Khan's ouster, the former opposition had filed a no-trust motion against Suri, saying he had "repeatedly violated the rules, parliamentary practices, democratic norms and traditions, and even Constitutional provisions and when presiding over the House, failed to conduct proceedings in an orderly manner to enable productive debate on issues of public importance".
The resolution was submitted by Murtaza Javed Abbasi of the PML-N, who had stated that instead of performing his role fairly and impartially, Suri acted in a "blatantly partisan manner" that had favoured the government and frequently deprived the opposition of their right to voice their views and the views of their electorates.
Referring to Suri's decision to dismiss the no-trust move against the prime minister, the resolution said Suri "wilfully and mala fidely subverted the Constitution" and his actions fell under the purview of Article 6, which is related to treason.
On Friday, members of the NA had received a circular from Additional Secretary of Legislation of the NA Secretariat Muhammad Mushtaq informing them that the motion for leave to move the resolution for removal of the deputy speaker from the office would be taken up on April 16 (today).