• Party says PML-N yet to make serious effort to address grievances
• Accuses ruling party of violating agreement by announcing PSDP without consulting provinces
• ‘N’ leadership hopes matter will be resolved when Shehbaz, Bilawal meet today

ISLAMABAD: As the National Assembly is set to meet today (on Thursday) after a week-long break to begin a general debate on the next fiscal year’s federal budget, the PPP, a key ally of the ruling coalition, is wavering on whether to participate in the proceedings, citing differences and growing discontent with the government’s decision to announce the budget without prior consultations.

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that so far, the ruling PML-N had not made any serious effort to address their grievances. Therefore, the party had not committed to participating in the debate on the federal budget presented by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on June 12.

“Yes, the PML-N’s leadership contacted our leadership, but no substantial progress has been made so far,” a senior PPP leader told Dawn on condition of anonymity. The PPP leader alleged that by announcing the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) without consulting the provinces, the PML-N violated a written agreement reached between the two parties at the time of the formation of the government after the Feb 8 elections.

The PPP leader said the party would likely make a final decision regarding participation in the budget debate in a parliamentary party meeting before the start of the National Assembly sitting today.

When asked whether the PPP would consider not voting in favour of the finance bill if the government failed to address its concerns, the PPP leader simply responded that they did not want to destabilise the government or the country at this crucial time.

When contacted, a senior PML-N leader, Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, agreed that the PPP had yet to give them any commitment to participate in the budget debate, but he hoped that the matter would be resolved before the start of the session.

The PPP’s eleventh-hour decision to boycott the finance minister’s budget speech on June 12 had surprised the ruling coalition, especially the PML-N. However, the PPP agreed to have a “token representation” after a last-minute intervention by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, who assured the PPP that its grievances would be addressed.

The PPP later said that it was after an assurance by Mr Dar — that the PML-N would try to address them before the planned passage of the budget on June 24 — that party chairman 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 held on June 12 that they should boycott the proceedings completely to register their protest.

After the finance minister’s budget speech last week, PPP’s Vice President Sherry Rehman had issued a statement, saying the party 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.

As per parliamentary tradition, Opposition Leader Omar Ayub Khan will open the general debate on the budget today. According to an agreement among the parties’ representatives in a meeting with Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on June 6, the NA will continue the general debate on the budget until June 24. The members will take part in the debate and vote on cut motions on June 26 and 27, whereas the budget is expected to be passed on June 28.

The official announcement by the NA Secretariat, however, had said that this plan was not final and could be changed according to the situation.

A PPP source told Dawn that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari were expected to meet before the start of the National Assembly session.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2024

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