Opposition shares speaker’s pessimism, PM begs to differ

Opposition shares speaker’s pessimism, PM begs to differ


ISLAMABAD: A statement from National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq that he does not see assemblies completing their full term, received mixed reaction in parliament on Thursday where the opposition lamented that the incumbent government had been conveniently conceding its space.

The main opposition party in the house, the Pakistan People Party (PPP), indicated it would bail out the government in passing the 24thConstitutional Amendment Bill, which is stuck in the Senate since last month, provided the government showed flexibility in Friday’s (today’s) meeting of heads of parliamentary parties.

“Speaker has more inside information. We also see the situation is precarious”, opposition leader Syed Khurseed Shah said, commenting on Sadiq’s statement. He added that he also sees the situation with suspicion. “All political parties should work together for democracy,” he added.

Shah hoped the issue of 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill – aimed at reallocating National Assembly seats to the federating units as per provisional results of this year’s population census and revamping constituencies accordingly — would be resolved.

Similar indication of support was given by his counterpart in the Senate, Aitzaz Ahsan, during his speech on last month’s sit-in staged by a religious outfit that ended after government conceded to the demands from the clerics.

“Though, I can’t give commitment but I am hopeful of some positive outcome from tomorrow’s meeting called by the Prime Minister provided he shows some flexibility,” Aitzaz, who also belongs to PPP and holds the coveted office of the opposition leader in the Senate, said.

The PPP demands a third-party audit of five per cent of census blocks before voting for the amendment. The party contends if delimitation is carried out as per provisional census results, which proved incorrect later, a much bigger constitutional crisis would emerge.

Aside from this public stance, there are reports that the PPP also wants some other concessions from the government in exchange for its support to the bill in the Senate where it is largest party in terms of seats.

In an interview on Wednesday, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq was asked by a private TV channel about the assembly completing its five-year tenure. He replied he did not see the assemblies completing term as “what’s happening now has never been witnessed before”.

“I am not an astrologer… I hope it [the National Assembly] completes its constitutional term but I don’t foresee it happening,” Sadiq said. “I feel something is about to happen… things are drastically different from 2002 and 2008.”

However, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi ruled out the possibility of early elections, saying an interim set-up would assume power in June next year to ensure that the 2018 general elections were held on time.

Speaking to the media representatives in London on Thursday, according to the media reports, Abbasi also said that the speaker’s statement reflected his personal views. He vowed to remove all his apprehensions in this regard.

Abbasi has called meeting of heads of parliamentary parties to end deadlock on two important bills on Friday (today) — the 24thConstitutional Amendment Bill and the draft law that would extend jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to the tribal region.

The government last week announced to bring the bill on FATA reforms in the National Assembly on Monday but later backed out, fearing strong reaction from its two allies — Maulana Fazur Rehman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai.

Protesting against government’s last-minute pullback from moving the Fata Reforms Bill, the opposition parties have been staging walkout from the National Assembly, virtually paralysing the proceedings of the lower house of parliament for three consecutive days.

On the one hand both the opposition leaders gave indications of resolving the deadlock on the constitutional amendment, Ahsan, on the other, in a speech in Senate, castigated the government for what he called conceding its space to other institutions and surrendering its authority.

“You have been seeing things slipping out of your hands. Look at our helplessness, we still want to stand by you,” he remarked. He said the government has continuously been giving the impression that democratic system was being rolled back and that conspiracies were being hatched against it.

“If you believe anyone is conspiring against you, expose those forces. When such statements about invisible hands are made, fingers are pointed towards intelligence agencies,” the opposition leader in the Senate added.

Seen as the biggest concession the government made in the agreement it inked with the protestors who blocked the Faizabad intersection for almost three weeks last month, was the insertion of a special clause for appreciation of the chief of army staff (COAS).

“A new aspect of Faizabad sit-in was that it was called on a sensitive religious matter by a religious group, yet it has exposed many secrets”, Ahsan told lawmakers.

Ruling party’s senator Saud Majeed termed the sit-ins staged during the past few years as conspiracies and demanded a parliamentary probe to expose hidden agenda behind them. His party colleague Senator Nehal Hashmi known for his fiery speeches said such sit-ins have not weakened Nawaz Shairf but actually they have weakened the state of Pakistan.

As he concluded his speech, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani remarked that an important message should be disseminated that religion should not be used to promote political agendas.

When Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Nighat Mirza termed Speaker’s remarks as “surrender”, Rabbani was quick to defend Sadiq. “Speaker has not surrendered. He is the custodian of Parliament and parliaments never surrender,” he remarked.

Senator Farhatullah Babar called for a judicial probe into the Faizabad sit-in that culminated in what he described as a one-page “national document of surrender” that set up a dangerous template to hold state and society hostage by a gun- and stick-wielding mob of few hundreds.

“The state surrender on November 25 before the mob [it] will only give additional handle to our adversaries to claim that nuclear assets were unsafe and could be hijacked by a few thousand armed people”, he said.

The stage for surrender was set by the statement on the eve of operation that seemed to equate the legitimately-elected government with the stick-wielding unruly mob engaged in a legitimate contest.

“By calling for no violence from either side, equal legitimacy was conferred on legal state institutions and the mob. It is inconceivable to engage in operation like Raddul Fasad without the state using violence,” he said.

“The question before us is whether we accept defeat for all times or we take it as one of the low points in our history, overcome it and move on,” he added.

Senator John Williams of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) defended the role of the military in ending the Faizabad sit-in at the request of federal government. He said that the military stepped in after it was requested by the federal government.

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