Updated Aug 14, 2018 09:33am

Transition raises hopes, but doubts abound

Amir Wasim

• 326 legislators take oath in country’s 15th NA
• No protest against ‘rigging’ during inaugural session
• PPP sources express reservations over Shahbaz’s candidature as PM
• Imran-led PTI poised to form govt

ISLAMABAD: Setting the stage for a second democratic transition a day before the country’s 71st Independence Day, 326 newly elected members of the 15th National Assembly took the oath amid an unusual calm during its inaugural session on Monday.

The opposition parties, which had earlier announced plans to lodge strong protest inside and outside the parliament against alleged rigging in the 2018 general elections from the platform of the recently-formed alliance Pakistan Free and Fair Elections Network, however, remained peaceful.

The oath-taking ceremony took place in a very cordial atmosphere as several opposition members were seen exchanging pleasantries with the legislators belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the party poised to form its government.

MNAs take oath.

PTI chairman and prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan took the lead in maintaining a reconciliator atmo­sphere when he shook hands with Pakistan Muslim Lea­gue-Nawaz (PML-N) president and his arch rival Shahbaz Sharif and then received Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and former president Asif Ali Zaradri as the father-son duo entered the house amidst desk-thumping by the opposition members. Mr Khan also posed for photos with Mr Bilawal and Mr Zardari before the start of the inaugural session.

Unlike most other members, however, Mr Khan came back to his seat adjacent to the official seat of the prime minister without seeing at any opposition member. The PML-N president met the PPP chairman while going back to his seat after signing the ‘Roll of the Members’, he completely ignored Mr Khan. Mr Zardari had already left the house by then.

The special treatment given to the PPP members by Mr Khan and other PTI members was noticed by most of those watching the proceedings from the galleries, as there was talk about a possible break-up of the grand opposition alliance. “I think soon the PML-N and the MMA will be the only parties on the opposition benches,” said a senior reporter who has been covering politics and parliament for the past two decades.

Reservation over Shahbaz’s nomination

While agreeing to field joint candidates for the top parliamentary offices, the 11-party opposition alliance had finalised a formula under which the PPP and the MMA were to nominate candidates for the offices of speaker and deputy speaker, respectively, whereas the PML-N had been asked to nominate a candidate for the prime minister’s office against PTI chairman Imran Khan. The PML-N later nominated Shahbaz Sharif for the position.

However, the PPP had “serious reservations” over Mr Sharif’s nomination due to his past controversial statements against their leadership, said sources in the PPP while speaking to Dawn.

“We want a different PML-N man as a candidate for the office of the prime minister,” said a senior PPP office-bearer and parliamentarian who remained active in the negotiations with the PML-N. The parliamentarian said the reservations had been conveyed to the PML-N leaders.

The oath to the newly-elected members was administered by outgoing speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who has also been re-elected from a Lahore constituency on a PML-N ticket. Before administering the oath, Mr Sadiq read out the process of the elections of the speaker and the deputy speaker. He said nomination papers for the elections could be submitted by Tuesday noon, whereas the candidature could be withdrawn anytime before the voting which was scheduled for Wednesday.

The PTI has nominated former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser as its candidate for NA speaker, whereas former leader of the opposition in the NA Syed Khursheed Shah of the PPP will be opposition parties’ candidate for NA speaker.

Later in the evening, the PTI announced Qasim Suri, its MNA from Balochistan, would contest the election for the office of NA deputy speaker against the joint opposition candidate Asad Mehmood of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal. Mr Mehmood is the son of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who this time failed to make his way to the assembly after losing the election in his hometown, Dera Ismail Khan.

The election of the speaker and deputy speaker is held through a secret ballot whereas the prime minister is elected by open vote.

If the process goes smooth, this will be the second democratic transition. Though the previous assembly was the third one that completed its full five-year term, the National Assembly completing its term during 2002-07 had functioned under the military regime of the then army chief retired Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Among those who took the oath as MNAs, there are seven party heads, six former provincial chief ministers, three former speakers, one former president (Mr Zardari) and one former prime minister (Raja Pervez Ashraf).

Besides Bilawal, Shahbaz and Imran, the other party heads who took the oath were Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui; Awami Muslim League head Sheikh Rashid Ahmed; Jamhoori Watan Party chief Shah Zain Bugti and Balochistan National Party chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal.

The former chief ministers who were administered oath as MNAs were Mr Shahbaz, Pervez Khattak, Aftab Shabaan Mirani, Mr Mengal, Amir Haider Hoti and Ali Mohammad Mehr.

The three former speakers who took oath on Monday were Dr Fehmida Mirza and Syed Fakhar Imam besides Mr Sadiq himself.

Since the members were called in Urdu alphabetical order, former president Asif Ali Zardari was the first person to sign the roll amidst slogans of “Jiye Bhutto” by the PPP members as well as by the party workers from the galleries where Aseefa and Bakhtawar, the two daughters of former premier Benazir Bhutto, were also present. A similar scene was witnessed when Bilawal Bhutto’s name was called by the NA secretary for signing the roll.

Prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan also signed the roll amidst desk-thumping by the PTI members and slogans “Wazir-i-Azam Imran Khan”.

And again when Mr Shahbaz went to the rostrum to sign the roll, the house echoed with the slogans “Wazir-i-Azam Shahbaz Sharif” and Dekho Dekho Kaun Aaya Sher Aaya Sher Aaya.

The NA has a total of 342 seats including 272 general seats, 60 seats reserved for women and 10 reserved for minorities. As polls in Rawalpindi (NA-60) had been postponed following the disqualification of PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi and elections in Faisalabad (NA-103) had been put off after the death of a candidate, the elections were held in 270 NA constituencies on July 25.

The results of only 339 NA constituencies, including the reserved seats, have so far been announced while the notification of PPP candidate Fida Dero’s victory from NA-215 (Sanghar), which had been withheld by the Election Commission of Pakistan, had not been issued till Monday evening despite the apex court order.

Mehboob Sultan and Amir Sultan, the two brothers and PTI MNAs from Jhang, did not turn up at the inaugural session due to the demise of their mother. Interestingly, Usman Ibrahim of the PML-N took the oath but left the house without signing the roll of members.

The PTI now has 152 members in the National Assembly after Imran Khan, Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Tahir Sadiq vacated the additional seats.

PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, who had won two NA seats, did not take the oath because he opted to keep the provincial assembly seat. Hamza Shahbaz also retained his Punjab Assembly seat and did not attend the session.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2018

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