Newly elected representatives sworn in as ruckus mars maiden session of 16th National Assembly

Published February 29, 2024
The 16th National Assembly takes oath on Thursday following its election in the February 8 general elections. — Radio Pakistan
The 16th National Assembly takes oath on Thursday following its election in the February 8 general elections. — Radio Pakistan

Newly elected members of the 16th National Assembly (NA) were sworn in on Thursday in a session marred by sloganeering.

Outgoing NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf administered the oath to the MNAs-elect. The session was originally scheduled to begin at 10am but was delayed by more than an hour.

According to a spokesperson for the NA, 302 members were sworn in out of a total strength of 336. It should be noted that the Election Commission of Pakistan has not yet decided over the allocation of reserved seats to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC).

Notable politicians who were sworn in included PML-N supremo and former premier Nawaz Sharif, ex-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, ex-president Asif Ali Zardari, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Further, three Senate members — PML-N’s Nuzhat Sadiq, JUI-F’s Abdul Ghafoor Haideri and PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani — resigned from the upper house of Parliament in order to join the National Assembly.

PTI leaders, some of whom have joined the assembly under the banner of the SIC under the party’s bid to secure reserved seats, were also sworn in. These included Barrister Gohar Khan, Ali Muhammad Khan, Omar Ayub Khan and Sher Afzal Marwat.

Following the oath, the outgoing speaker announced that elections for the NA speaker and deputy speaker would be held tomorrow. The session was later adjourned till Friday, 10am.

In a schedule released later, the NA Secretariat said the election for the prime minister will be held on Sunday (March 3). The deadline for the submission of nomination papers is 2pm Saturday, it added.

It should be noted that today’s session marked PML-N supremo Nawaz’s comeback to Parliament after seven years; he had stepped down as the premier following his disqualification in 2017.

‘Incomplete house’

After the newly elected lawmakers were sworn in, the outgoing speaker allowed PTI’s Omer Ayub Khan to make a brief speech over the latter’s insistence.

“I want to thank the people of my constituency NA-18 and my leader Imran Khan,” Ayub said. He stated that PTI-backed MNAs wanted to register their protest.

“The oath we have taken today, it clearly states that we will follow the rules and the law […] but at this point, the house is incomplete,” he said, highlighting that several PTI-backed women lawmakers — who had won seats in the February 8 general elections — were languishing in jail.

Subsequently, Ayub urged the speaker to allow Barrister Gohar Ali Khan to speak on the matter of reserved seats. While Ashraf initially expressed reluctance, he later allowed Gohar to make a brief speech and said that he wanted to “set a good tradition in the house”.

At the outset of his speech, Gohar said that PTI-backed lawmakers made it to the NA despite “all impossibilities”. He recalled that the party was not allowed to hold rallies and conventions. “But the nation sent us into this house by supporting the call of ‘gulaami namanzoor [slavery unacceptable]’.

“You become the public’s representatives only when you respect their mandate,” Gohar said, claiming that the PTI had submitted before the Election Commission of Pakistan that it had a strength of 180 members in the NA.

“Our symbol was taken, our leader was convicted in three cases […] but the nation has shown that the most popular leader of the country is the one and only Imran Khan,” he stated.

“[…] No person can sneak into this house without a public mandate,” the PTI leader said, pointing towards the treasury benches where the PML-N and PPP leaders were sitting.

He further highlighted that the NA was “incomplete” as reserved seats had not yet been allocated to the SIC. Gohar then urged Ashraf to halt the election of the speaker and deputy speaker unless the PTI-backed members on reserved seats were sworn in.

The outgoing speaker then granted PML-N leader Khawaja Asif time to speak. Referring to Barrister Gohar’s demand, the former federal minister said the SIC had not submitted a list of its members on reserved seats before the ECP.

Asif then took off his wrist watch and waved it — an apparent reference to the Toshakhana reference against Imran Khan. Throughout this time, PTI-backed lawmakers chanted pro-PTI slogans.

Sloganeering

Shortly before the session began, PTI-backed MNAs-elect chanted “Imran Khan zindabad” and “Aayi, aayi PTI [PTI has arrived]”.

In response, when Nawaz and Shehbaz entered the assembly, members of their party greeted the two with slogans of “Sher aya [tiger has arrived]”. The two were also met with pro-PTI chants as some MNAs-elect held up posters featuring pictures of PTI founder Imran Khan.

 Pro-PTI MNAs and PML-N lawmakers chant slogans at each other as Nawaz and Shehbaz take seats. — via NA YouTube
Pro-PTI MNAs and PML-N lawmakers chant slogans at each other as Nawaz and Shehbaz take seats. — via NA YouTube

Shortly before the session was about to begin, outgoing NA speaker Ashraf urged the MNAs-elect to take their seats. He emphasised that their first task was to “become members” of the lower house.

However, sloganeering continued in the assembly even after the oath-taking, mainly by MNAs belonging to the PML-N and the SIC.

PML-N members shouted “Ghari-chor” [wristwatch thief] — an apparent reference to the Toshakhana case against ex-premier Imran Khan — while the SIC MNAs chanted “Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan. Imran Khan”.

After taking the oath, the MNAs proceeded to sign the NA roll of members. When it was the turn of PTI’s Gohar and Ayub, they held up banners in favour of Imran, which read “Release Imran Khan”.

Govt, opposition to work together: Ayaz Sadiq

Speaking to reporters ahead of the session, PML-N leader Ayaz Sadiq was asked whether the House would be able to function with a large opposition. He stated that the opposition and the government work together as they were “wheels of the same car”.

Sadiq also added that there was a need for “national reconciliation” and hoped that the opposition would engage in a “positive debate”.

Meanwhile, PTI-affiliated MNAs had reaffirmed their loyalty to their party.

Ali Muhammad Khan said: “I had already said this 22 months ago, that my leader will return with a two-third majority.”

He reiterated the party’s claim that it had won “180” NA seats in the February 8 polls, adding that “rigging had taken place in the Form 47”. He said that those who thought that the PTI had been “finished” had been proven wrong.

In a video shared by the PTI on X, MNA Zartaj Gul said, “I was born in PTI and my funeral will also depart from PTI.”

Election for speaker, PM

On the second day of the National Assembly, the election for the speaker and his deputy will be held before noon, and the pair will be administered oath the same day. On the third day of the session, parliamentarians will select a leader of the house, or prime minister.

Shehbaz Sharif is the joint candidate for the prime minister’s slot against PTI-backed Omar Ayub while Ayaz Sadiq will contest the speaker election against PTI-backed Amir Dogar.

PPP lawmaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah will vie for the deputy speaker slot as a joint candidate of the PML-N and the PPP. The PPP and PML-N reached a power-sharing deal last week after the former agreed to support Shehbaz Sharif for the PM seat in return for governorships and Senate chairman slot.

It may be noted that following the Feb 8 polls, a multi-party alliance was formed comprising the PPP, PML-N, MQM-P, the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party, and the Balochistan Awami Party.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s political party has four seats in the National Assembly. Currently, he is up in arms against the election results. Will he sit on the treasury benches or the opposition, it is yet to be seen.

Calling of NA session

Earlier, following the refusal of President Dr Arif Alvi to call a session of the lower house, the NA Secretariat had summoned a session for 10am today. However, during the early hours of Thursday, Alvi relented from his earlier stance and assented to a summary seeking the summoning of the maiden sitting of the lower house.

A statement issued by the Presidency, took issue with the tone of the summary sent to President Alvi by the caretaker prime minister, adding that he was calling the session as he expected that the issue of reserved seats would be settled by the 21st day after the polls, as envisaged in the law.

On Wednesday night, the NA Secretariat had cancelled all invitation cards issued to ‘VIPs’ over security concerns. Sources said that the passes had been cancelled against the backdrop of the pandemonium witnessed during the first sitting of the KP Assembly.

Although the NA has 266 general seats, elections were not held in Bajaur’s NA-8 constituency due to the death of a candidate. In addition, around half a dozen seats have been vacated by candidates who emerged victorious on multiple seats.

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