NEWLY-minted NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq congratulates Deputy Speaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah.—White Star
NEWLY-minted NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq congratulates Deputy Speaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah.—White Star

• Ayaz Sadiq, Ghulam Mustafa elected speaker, deputy speaker, respectively, amid boycott by JUI-F, Mengal
• Top ‘coalition’ leaders leave immediately after voting
• PTI links cooperation with return of ‘80 stolen seats’, release of ‘political prisoners’
• Achakzai seeks end to establishment’s role in politics
• Lower house of parliament to elect new PM tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: The newly-constituted Nat­io­nal Assembly on Friday elected the nominees of the eight-party alliance, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N and Ghulam Mustafa Shah of the PPP, as its new custodians, as PTI-backed lawmakers continued their noisy protest during eight-hour-long proceedings, which saw some hard-hitting speeches from both sides of the aisle.

Members of the JUI-F and Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the BNP boycotted the election process and did not attend the entire sitting.

On a number of occasions, the house witnessed ruckus due to loud sloganeering from both sides against the others’ leadership and at one point, PML-N’s Rana Tanveer was seen angrily rushing towards the opposition benches to physically attack the protesting PTI members, but he was prevented from doing so by his colleagues.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, a soft-spoken businessman from Lahore who earned some across-the-board respect for his speakership from 2013 to 2018, bagged 199 votes, defeating PTI’s Amir Dogar, who polled 91 votes. PPP’s Ghulam Mustafa Shah secured 197 votes, while his opponent Junaid Akbar of the PTI got 92 votes.

Both Mr Sadiq and Mr Shah were the joint candidates of the PML-N, PPP, MQM-P, PML-Q, PML-Z, IPP, NP and BAP alliance.

The PTI members, who have now joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) to lay a claim to the reserved seats for women and minorities, raised slogans and even gathered in front of the speaker’s dais when PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, PM-desi­gnate Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shehbaz cast their votes. IPP’s Aleem Khan also remained the target of the protesting PTI lawmakers, who raised slogans of ‘lota’ (turncoat) when he came to vote twice.

There were slogans of “vote chor” and “mandate chor” every time the speakers took the names of members of the Sharif family. In response, some of the PML-N members, mostly women, also chanted slogans against Imran Khan and his sister Aleema Khan, calling them “thieves”.

After polling his vote in the speaker’s election, Shehbaz Sharif sat for some time on the seat of the leader of the house in the front row. However, when the PTI lawmakers intensified their protest, PML-N’s Attaullah Tarar whispered something in his ear, prompting the PM-in-waiting to leave the house.

PTI’s vocal member Jamshed Dasti, while casting his vote, made a brief speech and put one of his hands on the head of outgoing speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf, asking him to swear to God and answer “is this house legitimate?”

Syed Khursheed Shah of the PPP showed a goodwill gesture by going to all the PTI members sitting in the front row for a handshake with Barrister Gohar, Omer Ayub, Asad Qaiser, Sher Afzal Marwat and others.

All the PTI members first chanted slogans in favour of jailed founder Imran Khan and then polled their votes. Latif Khosa even made a brief speech without a mic before polling his vote and alleged that those who had called the sitting of the “incomplete assembly” had murdered democracy.

Unlike opening day on Thursday, the PTI members showed a soft corner for the PPP as they remained silent when Asif Ali Zardari and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari came to cast their votes.

It was perhaps due to the noisy protest that the top leadership of the PPP and the PML-N preferred to leave the house immediately after casting their votes.

Earlier in the day, two more members — Gustasap Khan of the PTI and Muneeba Iqbal of the PML-N — took oath as MNAs, taking the total number of lawmakers in the lower house of parliament to 304.

Of the total 304 members, 291 cast their votes in the election for the speaker and deputy speaker as 13 members were absent. One vote was rejected. Among those who did not attend the session were eight members of the JUI-F and one member each of BNP, PML-N, PPP, MQM and National Party.

In his maiden speech, the newly-elected speaker said both the government and the opposition were like “two wheels of a car” and urged them to work together for the betterment of the country.

The losing PTI candidate Amir Dogar said that had the Feb 8 elections not been rigged, he would have got 225 votes. He said Mr Sadiq had got 199 votes of eight parties, whereas he had secured 91 votes from a “single largest party” in the assembly.

He said that despite all pressures on the PTI, its candidates received the highest number of votes in the polls but the results were changed overnight. “If this drama was to be enacted, then why elections were conducted in which over Rs50 billion of the public money was spent.”

Mr Dogar said the opposition was ready to cooperate with the government-in-waiting, but first almost 80 stolen seats of the PTI would have to be returned to the party, seats reserved for women should be given and all political prisoners should be released forthwith. He praised the PTI workers for contesting elections on various symbols allotted to them after the party was deprived of its iconic ‘bat’ symbol.

On the other hand, PTI’s candidate for the deputy speaker Junaid Akbar, after losing the election, said that they didn’t accept this assembly, adding that “unless our leader is released, we will not back down”.

“Don’t stay in this illusion, we are not here for any reconciliation or talks,” Mr Akbar dec­lared while calling the house “occupied assembly.”

Achakzai’s speech

After formally taking his seat and before announcing the election of the deputy speaker, Mr Sadiq gave the floor to Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai who blasted the “establishment” over its alleged role in the Feb 8 general elections.

The PkMAP chief suggested that on the first day of the National Assembly, they should pass three to four resolutions, calling for an end to “the role of the establishment and security institutions in politics. Otherwise, we will thrash them with the power of the public”.

Mr Achakzai also called for the passage of a resolution to honour those judges who had in the past refused to legitimise military takeovers and lost their jobs. He also suggested another resolution seeking severe punishment for those judges who had validated martial laws in the country and called for withdrawing all monetary benefits from them. He urged the “military establishment and intelligence agencies” to remain within their constitutional domain and asked the leadership of the three major parties to pledge that they would not seek any support from the establishment.

Mr Achakzai, who had been a target of the severe criticism from Imran Khan in the past, constantly received applause from PTI members when he directly targeted the “establishment” and accused it of “playing” with the country’s constitution. He even received a standing ovation from all the PTI lawmakers when he called for the immediate release of Imran Khan.

When Mr Achakzai finished his speech, PTI’s candidate for the prime minister’s office Omer Ayub was seen rushing towards him to felicitate and thank him over his supportive remarks.

Though the PTI members in their speeches and media talks have been constantly protesting over their alleged “stolen mandate”, none of them has ever made a direct reference to the establishment like Mr Achakzai did.

MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar reminded the protesting PTI lawmakers that when they were in the government they used to take pride of being on the same page with the establishment.

PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal stated that no person, party or institution could solve the country’s problems and called for the politics of collaboration. He said Imran Khan used to call for accountability and he was now crying when he was being made accountable.

Mr Iqbal made it clear that they were ready to engage the opposition, but “we will not let anyone make this house hostage”. He vowed to run the assembly, come what may, if the PTI members were determined to disrupt its proceedings.

Omer Ayub said that Mr Iqbal was himself a beneficiary of the rigged polls and should be “ashamed” of talking about democracy.

PML-N’s Attaullah Tarar took the floor and asked the PTI to seek public apology over “winning the 2018 elections” with the support of the establishment, before criticising them. He also “condemned” Mr Achakzai for targeting “state institutions”.

The National Assembly will now meet on Sunday for the election of the prime minister.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2024

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