Ruling party blindsided by PPP in maiden budget session

Published June 13, 2024
PPP leaders during a parliamentary party meeting ahead of the budget on Wednesday.
PPP leaders during a parliamentary party meeting ahead of the budget on Wednesday.

ISLAMABAD: Though loud and traditional protests by the opposition led by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) failed to derail the maiden budget presentation by the coalition government led by the PML-N, it was the eleventh-hour move by its key ally PPP, which took the wind out of the ruling party’s sails, forcing it to delay the proceedings for nearly two hours.

According to the PPP, the decision to initially boycott the budget session was made due to an alleged violation of a power-sharing agreement it had reached with the PML-N after the Feb polls. It also claimed the PML-N bypassed it in the budget preparation.

However, it agreed to have a “token representation” after a last-minute intervention by Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, who assured the PPP that its grievances would be addressed.

As this drama unfolded, the confident finance minister rema­ined standing for nearly 20 minutes ready to deliver his budget speech even before the session could formally kick-start. But the SIC members did not require the start of formal proceedings to record their “protest” through loud slogans and desk-thumping. The session only started when Ishaq Dar led PPP leaders Khursheed Shah, Naveed Qamar, and Ijaz Jakharani into the hall.

Unlike past practice, the budget documents were not placed on the tables of the MNAs and they were told to collect them after the session from the legislation branch.

When contacted, a senior official of the NA Secretariat told Dawn that this step had been taken to prevent the members possibly using the voluminous budget books as projectiles during their protest inside the assembly.

Dar assures PPP

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that it was after an assurance by Mr Dar that the PML-N would seriously look into the party’s grievances and try to address them before the planned passage of the budget on June 24 that Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari agreed to send three PPP members to the assembly hall for a “token participation under protest”.

The sources said there was a consensus among the PPP lawmakers during the parliamentary meeting that they should completely boycott the proceedings to register its protest.

When contacted, PPP’s Vice President Sherry Rehman said the PPP had agreed to support the formation of the government in February in the “larger national interest” after intense negotiations. She said as part of their accord with the PML-N, the PSDP for all four provinces was to be “pre-agreed” with the government.

“Had we been taken on board, we would have been able to positively contribute to the government’s budget-making process,” she said, adding that it was for this reason that they had a token representation in protest during the budget speech session of the assembly.

“It is our party’s position that the government must take the PPP into full confidence on important issues such as the budget,” she said, adding that the PPP and the PML-N teams would be meeting on Thursday (today) to ensure the implementation of the remainder of the agreement.

Opposition’s protest

The National Assembly witnessed a rumpus as the SIC members, some of them carrying placards and portraits of PTI founding chairman Imran Khan, kept raising slogans and desk-thumping throughout the finance minister’s budget speech.

Some members also blew whistles and trumpets and tore apart copies of the agenda and other budget documents. They raised slogans of “Go Shehbaz Go” and “thieves” as soon as the prime minister entered the assembly hall. They also raised slogans demanding the release of former prime minister Imran Khan.

The SIC members later gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and some of them were seen staging a sit-in on the stairs. However, the opposition members failed to rattle the finance minister, who managed to deliver his speech with ease and full confidence.

A number of PML-N members, including Information Minister Ataullah Tarar, Hanif Abbasi, Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, and Kesoo Mal Kheal Das made a human shield to protect the prime minister to prevent any possible physical contact with the protesting opposition members.

Soon after the budget speech and laying of the finance bill, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq announced the long adjour­nment of the house till June 20 due to the upcoming Eidul Azha. The general debate on the budget will begin on June 20 with the government hoping to get the budget passed on June 24.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2024

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