• Sitting scheduled to be held today put off for a week, no reason given by speaker
• Fawad accuses Ashraf of trying to derail their return to parliament, says party delegation will meet him anyway
• Speaker defends decision to accept resignations, says he is criticised no matter what he does

ISLAMABAD: In a surprise move, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Thursday put off the National Assembly (NA) session, scheduled to be held today (Friday), for a week without giving a reason.

“The session of the National Assembly scheduled to be held at 11am on Friday (Jan 20) will now be held on January 27,” says an official announcement by the NA Secretariat, adding that the speaker had done so under Rule 49 of the Rules and Procedure for the Conduct of Business in the NA 2007.

The move came after reports emerged that the PTI planned to send those members to the assembly on Friday, whose resignations have not been accepted so far.

PTI Vice President Fawad Chaudhry confirmed to Dawn that the party had convened a meeting of its parliamentary group at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House on Friday, from where the party members would go to Parliament House to meet the speaker.

After earlier insisting that he could not act on the resignations submitted by PTI lawmakers without personally verifying them, the speaker on Tuesday took a U-turn and accepted the resignations of 34 PTI lawmakers and AML chief Sheikh Rashid in a bid to scuttle PTI’s purported plan to bring a confidence motion against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

On Monday, PTI Chairman Imran Khan had hinted at returning to the National Assembly to ensure that the “party turncoats” did not help PM Shehbaz get a vote of confidence that the party was planning to put the premier to the “test”.

With PTI dissident Raja Riaz holding the parliamentary party leader’s position in the National Assembly, PTI fears that he may decide to vote in favour of the prime minister if President Dr Arif Alvi asks Shehbaz Sharif to take the trust vote.

Raja Riaz is currently the opposition leader and leads the group of PTI MNAs who did not tender their resignations when the party decided to quit the assembly in the aftermath of Imran Khan’s ouster as PM in last April.

There were reports that the PTI was also weighing an option to go back to the assembly to claim the office of the opposition leader to have a say in the process of the formation of the future caretaker government before the next elections.

The PTI alleges that the speaker had accepted the resignations of 35 members in a haste and under the fear of losing the “friendly” opposition leader.

Talking to Dawn, Fawad Chaudhry said the speaker’s act of putting off the NA session had exposed the real face of the ruling alliance which was afraid of facing the PTI in the elections as well as in the parliament.

Responding to a question, Mr Chaudhry said presently they only had a plan to meet the speaker, adding that they would go to the speaker even after his act of delaying the session.

He, however, said the speaker had delayed the session because if the PTI members reached the house then their resignations would become ineffective.

He said the party had submitted 127 resignations because they wanted to see general elections in the country. However, he said, the government was running away from the elections.

Mr Chaudhry was of the view that the speaker had basically served the purpose of the PTI by accepting the resignations in piecemeal and by delaying the assembly session as it was the government which would had to bear the brunt of the “political turmoil” in the country.

Instead of stabilising the country economically and politically, he said, the rulers were causing more instability in the country through their “foolish decisions.”

“The government is actually serving our purpose,” he added.

Mr Chaudhry said after the dissolution of the Punjab and KP assemblies and acceptance of over 35 lawmakers, by-elections had now become due in 63 per cent of the three legislatures, i.e. Punjab, KP and the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, sources in the government told Dawn that the speaker was weighing option to accept the resignations of more PTI lawmakers in the next few days and he had already started compiling the relevant documents and statements to support his decision.

They said the speaker had accepted the resignations of 35 members on the basis of their various statements on TV and in the newspapers that they had resigned from the assembly.

‘Damned if I do, damned if I don’t’

Separately, Mr Ashraf defended his decision to accept the resignations of PTI lawmakers, saying he only did so after they were able to “satisfy him” by proving that it was a “voluntary decision and not under pressure”, Dawn.com reported.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, he said he had accepted the resignations of those lawmakers who had satisfied him that they had tendered the resignations voluntarily as well as those who had made their stance on the matter clear in the media.

He said several PTI lawmakers had contacted him, saying they were still pondering over the decision to resign from the lower house of parliament.

“Many PTI members spoke to me on the phone and said they were still thinking about it. They also told me that they were initially told that tendering resignations was only a pressure tactic.”

The NA speaker said he became doubtful after hearing such statements and did not accept the resignations till he was completely satisfied. “Before I accept any resignation, I make sure that the person resigning made the decision according to their own will and conscience,” he added.

He said: “There is a hue and cry when I don’t accept resignations, and [there’s] a hue and cry when I do.”

Mr Ashraf rejected the claim that he accepted the resignations due to PTI Chairman Imran Khan hinting at the party’s return to the assembly.

“There is nothing as such. The process of accepting the resignations was initiated when the PTI delegation visited me,” he said, referring to the meeting held last month.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2023

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