ISLAMABAD: Opposition members in the National Assembly boycotted the opening day of the budget debate on Monday after the government refused to telecast live the speech of Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah on the state-run television.
After the opposition’s refusal to participate in the proceedings, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq gave floor to one of the youngest members of the assembly Shaza Fatima Khawaja of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to open a general discussion on the federal budget for the year 2017-18 presented by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Friday.
The opposition made a failed attempt to disrupt the proceedings when Shazia Marri of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) returned to the house only to point out lack of quorum, but the speaker after counting of the members declared the house in order and allowed the treasury members to continue their speeches.
At the outset of the session which began after a two-day recess, the opposition leader stated that he would deliver his speech only if the proceedings of the house went live on television like the budget speech of the finance minister. Mr Shah reminded the speaker that his speech on the last year’s budget had been telecast live by Pakistan Television (PTV).
State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb informed the house that it was not possible for the government to allow live telecast of Mr Shah’s speech as the PTV was running its routine and planned transmission for which it had also booked advertisements. She said it was true that once the speech of the opposition leader had been telecast live, but otherwise there had been no such tradition.
The minister assured the opposition leader that she would direct the PTV to run a “special package” based on Mr Shah’s speech in the evening.
Mr Shah, however, insisted that he would only start the debate when the government made arrangements for the live coverage. He was of the view that it was the duty of the speaker as the custodian of the house to protect the rights of every member and to provide equal opportunities to the government and the opposition.
“My several speeches in the past have been aired live,” he said, adding that the government wanted to see the opposition with its hands tied and mouths shut.
When the speaker expressed his inability to do anything, Mr Shah stated then there would be no use of speaking in the parliament. He said they were ready to give a walkover to the government and it could get the budget passed from the house in the absence of the opposition within a day.
It is worth remembering that Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani had once directed the government to live telecast the speech of Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan, and the directives were implemented by then information minister Pervaiz Rashid during the same sitting.
Parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Shah Mehmood Qureshi ridiculed the government’s logic that no government in the past had allowed live telecast of opposition leaders’ speeches, saying the PML-N should take the historic initiative of starting a new tradition by allowing live telecast of Mr Shah’s speech.
The house also witnessed a brief rumpus when PML-N’s Daniyal Aziz while speaking on a point of order made some personal attacks on PTI chairman Imran Khan, though without naming him.
After sending Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Aftab Sheikh to talk to the protesting opposition members, the speaker gave floor to Mr Aziz.
Without naming Mr Khan, Mr Aziz said that an antiterrorism court had declared a member of this house “proclaimed offen¬der” and a notice had also been pasted outside his “Banigala residence”.
The PTI chairman had been declared a proclaimed offender by the court in a case of attacking the government buildings during the party’s sit-in in 2014.
PTI’s firebrand member Murad Saeed, who returned to the house to respond to Mr Aziz, launched a counterattack on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, facing investigations in the Panama Papers case.
When Mr Saeed was going back to the opposition’s lobby, women members on the treasury benches hooted at him, prompting him to raise slogans ‘go Nawaz go’.
Ignoring the past parliamentary traditions of starting the general debate on the budget with the opposition leader’s speech, the speaker asked PML-N’s backbencher Shaza Fatima to open the debate.
Naeema Kishwar of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and PML-N’s Mahmood Bashir Virk also spoke on the budget after which the proceedings were adjourned till Tuesday morning.