LAHORE: A joint meeting of the parliamentary parties of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the PML-Q has decided to stage a full-scale protest in the budget session of the Punjab Assembly beginning from Monday (today).

Amidst pressure tactics, including lodging of FIRs against the PTI parliamentarians and consequent arrests, the joint opposition has asked all its MPAs to attend the session, stage protest and move maximum cut motions against the budget so that a tough time could be given to the PML-N coalition government.

The government is set to lay its first fiscal budget for 2022-23, having a total Annual Development Programme (ADP) outlay of around Rs700 billion.

According to sources privy to the meeting that was jointly chaired by Speaker Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and former chief minister Usman Buzdar, it also discussed the matter of appointing opposition leader, the slot for which two former ministers Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed and Mian Aslam Iqbal are strong contenders.

In a meeting held at Parvez Elahi’s residence a day earlier, it was decided that former law minister Basharat Raja should be entrusted with the role of the opposition leader as he had effectively run the PTI government’s affairs in the Punjab Assembly. “Now six candidates are in the run for the opposition leader’s slot and their names have been sent to the PTI chairman Imran Khan for a final decision,” a source told Dawn. According to the source former ministers Basharat Raja, Sibtain Khan, Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed, Mian Aslam Iqbal, Murad Raas and Fayazul Hassan Chohan are the candidates for the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly.

The meeting also evolved a strategy to contest the by-election on 20 seats across Punjab, including four in Lahore and to counter the “pre-poll rigging”. It condemned registration of cases against opposition legislators and their arrests.

The meeting decided to bring a resolution in the Punjab Assembly condemning the blasphemous comments by two leaders of the ruling party in Indian. It was decided that Hafiz Ammar Yasir would present the resolution in the House on behalf of the opposition.

Parvez Elahi said the government was committing worst acts of revenge, adding that Punjab had become a police state and was being actually run by the provincial police chief. He acknowledged the resistance shown by the opposition’s women MPAs in the face of the state power used by the PML-N. “The conduct of the Punjab Police IG will be taken up in the privilege committee and he will have to be answerable for his actions,” the speaker said.

Some of the members complained that the process of rigging had started in the constituencies where by-poll was being held. They also expressed their concern over the chief secretary’s visits to the districts where by-election would be held.

Basharat Raja said the PTI and PML-Q legislators were not afraid of lawsuits and asserted that the government’s pressure tactics would be of no use on July 17.

MPA Sardar Shahabuddin said the government was targeting certain polling stations in all the constituencies for rigging the by-poll.

It was decided in the meeting that a special cell of the party would be set up where members could file complaints of rigging in the by-poll. The meeting also considered a proposal to assign duties to all assembly members in the by-election constituencies. It also decided to deploy women parliamentarians to run the campaign for by-elections.

Meanwhile, former minister Fayazul Hassan Chohan told the media the ruling PML-N was trying to block opposition MPAs in their respective cities by lodging fake FIRs and arresting them for staging May 25 long march to get the budget passed.

He says that he himself had been implicated in a case despite the fact that hundreds of policemen had entered the Punjab Assembly during election for chief minister’s office.

“I want to tell Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza Shehbaz and Maryam Nawaz that the opposition MPAs, including myself, cannot be pressurised through mean tactics,” he said.

Mr Chohan also chided the government for continuing transfers and postings of its “favourite” officers in the constituencies where by-elections would be held. He asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to cancel the transfers and postings made after the announcement of election schedule.

“The upcoming by-election has become a matter of life and death for Hamza Shehbaz Sharif because his government will be toppled if the PML-N could not win maximum seats to get 186 members on the treasury benches,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2022

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