NAWAZ Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif, PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other members take oath as MNAs in the National Assembly, on Thursday.—White Star
NAWAZ Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif, PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and other members take oath as MNAs in the National Assembly, on Thursday.—White Star

• 302 lawmakers take oath amid noisy protests by opposition lawmakers, supporters
• Ayaz Sadiq to contest NA speaker poll against Amir Dogar backed by PTI

ISLAMABAD: Three weeks after the general elections, the National Assembly held its inaugural session on Thursday amid noisy protests from both sides of the aisle, as 302 lawmakers took the oath of office on its first day.

The session started at 11:14am with outgoing speaker Pervaiz Ashraf in the chair. At the outset, PTI leader Amir Dogar led a group of lawmakers into the house wearing facemasks resembling Imran Khan and carrying portraits demanding the release of the PTI founder. They surrounded the dais of the speaker and shouted slogans for over an hour prompting the PML-N and PPP lawmakers to respond by doing the same.

The PTI MNAs were chanting slogans like ‘release Imran Khan’, ‘prisoner number 804’, ‘who will save Pakistan: Imran Khan, Imran Khan’, and ‘fake mandate and thieves are not accepted’ etc. On the other hand, PML-N leaders waved a wristwatch — a reference to the Toshakhana case against Imran Khan.

The press gallery was also not immune from unrest, as some PTI supporters managed to sneak into the gallery and raise slogans against Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif.

They were, however, shown out of the hall by the assembly staff. The supporters of the political parties in the VIP gallery were also involved in sloganeering.

Similarly, a PML-N supporter, reportedly son of a late PML-N leader from Murree, was seen raising slogans against PTI founder Imran Khan. He was expelled from the house on the complaint of PTI MNAs sitting in the front row.

PPP leaders Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Asif Ali Zardari separately entered the house as Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari sat in the VIP gallery.

As Asif Zardari entered the hall, the PTI supporters greeted him with ‘Mr 10 per cent’ jibes. The PPP supporters responded with ‘aik Zardari sab pay bhari’.

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif and PM-designate Shehbaz Sharif came to the house together and were warmly welcomed by those sitting on the treasury benches. They were also met with slogans from the PTI supporters.

Oaths and signatures

After the lawmakers were administered the oath, they were asked to sign the roll of members, a register newly elected lawmakers are supposed to sign after taking the oath. PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq — being the speaker nominee — was the first one to sign his name.

Due to the protest of PTI lawmakers surrounding the speaker’s dais, former president Zardari faced some difficulty in approaching the podium. PPP lawmakers, however, made a human shield around him to facilitate his signature.

The PML-N lawmakers followed the same method to shield Nawaz and Shehbaz from the protest and they were taken to the speaker’s dais for the required procedure.

On this occasion, Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz also reached the VIP gallery to witness the oath-taking of the MNA. She also faced slogans.

 (CLOCKWISE from top) Opposition members holding banners bearing the slogan ‘Release Imran Khan’ gather in front of the speaker’s dais; PTI’s Gohar Ali Khan and Omar Ayub arrive at the assembly; Ayaz Sadiq and his proposers submit his nomination papers for the election of the speaker; while PPP’s Asif Zardari smiles as he signs the members’ register after taking the oath, on Thursday.—Syed Irfan Raza/AFP/White Star
(CLOCKWISE from top) Opposition members holding banners bearing the slogan ‘Release Imran Khan’ gather in front of the speaker’s dais; PTI’s Gohar Ali Khan and Omar Ayub arrive at the assembly; Ayaz Sadiq and his proposers submit his nomination papers for the election of the speaker; while PPP’s Asif Zardari smiles as he signs the members’ register after taking the oath, on Thursday.—Syed Irfan Raza/AFP/White Star

Aleem Khan, a former PTI leader, was called a turncoat by the protesters as he arrived to sign his roll of member.

In contrast, almost all PTI lawmakers chanted slogans in favour of Imran Khan before scratching their signatures. They went to the speaker’s dais and raised the portrait of Mr Khan before signing their name.

After the signatures, Speaker Ashraf gave the floor to Omar Ayub who complained that many of the detained leaders and returned candidates of the PTI were in jail and were not produced in the NA session.

“One of our woman leaders Aliya Hamza (who lost election to Hamza Shehbaz) is still behind bars,” he added.

PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali said his party had won 180 seats according to Forms-45, but its mandate was stolen.

He said that under Article 51, the election of the speaker and the deputy speaker could not be held with an ‘incomplete’ house.

He said the Sunni Ittehad Council has been deprived of 23 seats, including 20 reserved seats for women and three reserved for non-Muslims.

The speaker also allowed PML-N leader Khawaja Asif to speak on the floor of the house but the opposition started shouting giving him no chance to speak.

PTI-backed MNA Jamshed Dasti used “abusive language” during the speech.

In response, Khawaja Asif removed his wristwatch and brandished it to tease his opponents — a reference to the Toshakhana case. PTI-backed Amir Dogar told people sitting in the VIP gallery that the opposition would not allow the government to make any legislation throughout its term.

Speaker, deputy speaker’s election

The National Assembly issued a notification regarding the election of the speaker and deputy speaker which is taking place today (Friday) at 10am while the election for the office of prime minister will be held on Sunday.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Ghulam Mustafa Shah are the joint candidates of the allied parties for the office of the speaker and deputy speaker, respectively.

PTI-backed lawmaker Amir Dogar is the joint candidate for the slot of the NA speaker and Junaid Akbar is their candidate for the office of the deputy speaker.

Interestingly, PPP leader Yousuf Raza Gilani lost his Senate seat after taking the oath as the MNA. The lawmaker cannot hold two offices simultaneously.

Earlier, it was believed that Mr Gilani would be the joint candidate of the coalition for the Senate chairman slot, but after taking oath as the MNA he ceased to be a senator.

PPP sources earlier said Mr Gilani would join the Senate in the election expected to be held in March and then he will be able to contest for the office of the chairman.

Composition of coalition

The potential ruling coalition consists of eight political parties: the PML-N with 108 seats, PPP with 68 seats, MQM-Pakistan with 22 seats, PML-Q with four seats, Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party with four seats, Balochistan Awami Party, PML-Zia, and National Party with one seat each.

In total, the coalition has 209 seats so far. It may be noted that Ijazul Haq of PML-Z had joined the PTI in March 2023.

The joint opposition has five political parties. The Sunni Ittehad Council has 91 seats, JUI-F has eight seats, Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen, Balochistan National Party, and the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party have one seat each. The total strength of the opposition is 104 members at the present.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2024

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