ISLAMABAD, Aug 29: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz survived a no-confidence move against him in the National Assembly on Tuesday after a bruising opposition onslaught over charges of wrongdoing that he rejected as false and a conspiracy.
The opposition resolution seeking to oust the prime minister from office got only 136 votes, 36 short of a simple majority of 172 in the 342-seat house it needed for passage while the 201-strong ruling coalition was not required to vote.
Both sides had claimed a victory even before the vote was held under the traditional system of parliamentary division, Mr Aziz calling it a ‘victory of truth’ in a speech replying to a storm of opposition criticism and some opposition members saying theirs would be a ‘moral victory’ even if they lacked numbers to outmatch what they called an ‘artificial majority’ of the ruling coalition.
The prime minister again boasted about the result in brief remarks after Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain announced the failure of the no-confidence move amid opposition protest against the killing of Baloch leader Akbar Bugti, and said rhetorically: “Today’s is a victory of democracy and victory of truth.”
Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the opposition knew it did not have sufficient numbers but the purpose of a no-confidence resolution was not only to remove a government but also to draw attention to its failures.
The opposition parties, which have a total of 141 members in the house, had never expected their move would cause any dent in the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Muslim League. But they appeared to be aiming at what they called exposing the government’s perceived failures and give a momentum to their campaign against President Pervez Musharraf and his civilian loyalists.
It was the second such no-confidence resolution against a prime minister in Pakistan’s history, the last being in 1989 against the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who had also survived the move although much stronger forces were arrayed against her.
Prime Minister Aziz, in his speech, called a 30-point opposition charge-sheet against ‘a bundle of lies’ and a ‘conspiracy to mislead the people’.
He denied any wrongdoing as he briefly referred to some of the allegations concerning the scrapped sale of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), last year’s stock market crash, and sugar and cement shortages earlier this year and said he had delivered to the National Assembly secretariat a written point-by-point reply to the opposition’s charge-sheet.
He avoided speaking about last Saturday’s killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation, which had overshadowed the no-confidence debate, but said the government would not allow ‘anti- development forces’ to harm to the country.
Mr Aziz credited the ‘president’s vision’ for Pakistan’s economic turnaround in the past seven years from what he called a position of a ‘failed state’ and bankruptcy after General Musharraf took power in 1999 and said the relationship between them was good and helped promote democracy. “Such a relationship was missing in the past when assemblies were dissolved.”
He reiterated his oft-repeated claim of “breaking the begging bowl” for foreign aid and freeing the country from dependence on the International Monetary Fund and said the new fiscal responsibility law passed by parliament would prevent the country from falling into ‘that quagmire’ again.
The prime minister rejected opposition allegations and said his government had acted swiftly to tackle sugar and cement shortages by allowing imports, adding that the domestic cement production would double this year.
He said all his government’s decisions were taken in national rather than personal interest and that the no-confidence move was the work of those who had a blemished past or were engaged in negative politics.
These elements, he said, included those who at one time opposed Pakistan’s creation and the Quaid-i-Azam and lately tore up a women’s rights bill containing sacred names in the National Assembly, those who “gobbled up foreign exchange bank deposits of the people”, those who promoted a “culture of SROs (statutory regulatory orders — often issued to benefit particular persons), and those who “emptied the exchequer and bought palaces outside”.
The prime minister said his government was pursuing a transparent “politics of the future” to take Pakistan forward and added: “I promise whatever steps we take will be for the sake of Pakistan and for the sake the Islamic world.
“In our decisions we will not take anybody’s dictation, will bow our heads only before Allah, and whatever laws we make will be in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah.”
Despite his anger at opposition charge, he invited the opposition parties to cooperate with the government in the promotion of democratic institutions.