ISLAMABAD, May 21: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought on Monday some political balm and counsel to what recently had been a stormy parliament here, while reassuring Pakistan of Turkey’s “shoulder-to-shoulder” support in fighting terrorism.
Contrary to their noisy protests in the National Assembly and walkouts from the Senate early this month in a ferocious campaign against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, lawmakers of opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N sat calmly with the rest of the house to hear and applaud the Turkish leader’s second address to a joint sitting of Pakistani parliament in less than three years.
But it was not immediately clear whether this parliamentary peace by the country’s largest opposition party was only a temporary gesture of honour for Mr Erdogan or it could extend to the coming budget sessions of the National Assembly and Senate.
However, Mr Erdogan, who discarded a prepared text to make a 20-minute extempore speech in Turkish — translated in English and Urdu by interpreters — seemed to have the latest political bitterness in Pakistan in mind when he talked of the merits of “political consensus”, “constructive” opposition, and — as if reminding the Pakistani audience of the flowering of Turkish democracy in recent years — power of parliament and public opinion.
It seemed also in deference to the respect Turkey and its leaders have enjoyed in Pakistan that PML-N’s Punjab province Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, known for his hardline outbursts against the federal government, was present in the Speaker’s gallery along with the governors and chief ministers of all the provinces while other prominent guests on the occasion included Madam Emine Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister’s wife, seated in the prime minister’s gallery donning her trademark headscarf, chiefs of armed forces and foreign ambassadors in other special galleries.
While Prime Minister Gilani read out a prepared nine-minute vote-of-thanks speech after his Turkish counterpart’s address, the treasury benches too made a gesture to the opposition by agreeing to a speech also by PML-N’s opposition leader in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who used the occasion to make clear his party’s participation was due to the presence of the Turkish leader after Speaker Fehmida Mirza asked him to take the floor in a deviation from the printed agenda.
Mr Erdogan’s three-day visit, which began on Sunday, comes amid growing tension between the PML-N and the PPP after the PML-N had staged its noisiest protests in the present parliament for several days during the previous National Assembly session early this month while its Senators staged only walkouts from the Senate to force Mr Gilani to resign after incurring a Supreme Court sentence for contempt of court for not writing to Swiss authorities to reopen a disputed money-laundering charge against President Asif Ali Zardari on the ground of an existing presidential immunity. But Mr Gilani says that while the court has not disqualified him and he was not convicted for moral turpitude, he would remain in office until he exhausts his option of an appeal and a decision by the lower house speaker to decide whether a question of disqualification has arisen.
Mr Erdogan, who last addressed a joint sitting of Pakistani parliament on Oct 26, 2009, described Pakistan as an “exemplary country in practising democracy” and said that despite hardships, the multi-party system was an “asset for Pakistan” in which parliament could help the country take its “deserved role in the world”.
“A parliament which has the support of the people can overcome anything,” said Mr Erdogan, whose own party in Turkey has used the national legislature to end the traditional dominance of Turkey’s military over politics.
And in what appeared to be a clear advice to opposition parties in Pakistan, he said opposition was “as important as the ruling party” with a job to “not only criticise but also see what has gone wrong and correct it”, and added: “Democracy needs constructive opposition.”
Lauding Pakistan for doing its “utmost best to fight terrorism”, he said: “I reassure you, you are not alone (in the fight).” And reminding the house that Turkey too had suffered from terrorism, he added: “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We want peace and stability.”
Stressing the importance of a robust democracy and a strong growing economy, he said political consensus would help bring economic stability as well as regional peace.
Mr Erdogan came down from the stage to the house for hand-shake with lawmakers on the front benches, including those of the opposition, after the Speaker read out the presidential order proroguing the joint sitting that lasted only about an hour.