ISLAMABAD: Exasperated by the bickering over whose speech is broadcast live on PTV, the leaders of smaller parties allied with the government and the opposition on Tuesday implored both sides to resolve the issue so parliament could get on with the business of debating the budget.
Leaders of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Awami National Party (ANP), Qaumi Watan Party (QWP), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) asked the speaker to intervene and resolve the impasse, which has made proceedings of the budget session “redundant”.
The appeals came at the outset of Tuesday’s sitting, after a charged opening speech by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The former foreign minister laid into the government for ignoring the quagmire that was enveloping the region around it.
Opposition leaders demand four hours of PTV airtime for budget speeches
“We must tread very carefully; we have longstanding brotherly relations with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” he said, referring to the decision by Arab countries to sever diplomatic ties with Doha. “This is a crisis in the making,” he said, calling for the government to brief parliament on how it planned to respond.
He then termed the budget debate “meaningless”, saying that it was not on the minds of the people. “They are discussing the Qatari prince’s refusal to the joint investigation team (JIT)… the mishandling of the Jadhav case… they want to know who leaked Hussain Nawaz’ photo,” he said, amid interruptions from irate Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmakers.
When he was done, Syed Khursheed Shah rose to make his customary walkout speech. However, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq pointed out that ANP’s Ghulam Bilour wanted to speak, prompting Mr Shah to sit back down.
“The issue of [who leaked] the photograph is not important to me, nor is the Qatari prince’s letter. What matters to me is the poverty, inflation, terrorism and all the other issues that plague our country. We want to talk about these issues, and I urge both the government and opposition to take one step back and get on with the business of debating the budget,” the ANP veteran exclaimed, to applause from both sides of the aisle.
Mr Shah rose in his seat again and again, but each time, the speaker granted the floor to a parliamentary leader — first Sheikh Salahuddin and then JI’s Sahibzada Tariqullah. The MQM lawmaker echoed the ANP lawmaker’s views and called on the speaker to “act as a bridge” between the two quarrelling sides.
When the JI also endorsed this view, the leader of the opposition took the floor and gave a timeline of his efforts to end the impasse with the government.
“The delegations would come and meet me. When we put our demands before them, they would say ‘we will ask and get back to you’. If the decision-making authority is elsewhere, then that is dictation, not democracy,” he said.
He also blamed the government for violating parliamentary tradition by allowing the treasury benches to open the budget debate, and announced a walkout.
However, just as the opposition began to leave their seats, Mehmood Khan Achakzai took the floor and asked for Mr Shah’s indulgence. He proposed an amendment to the rules that would make it mandatory for the opposition leader’s speech to be broadcast live on PTV and urged Mr Shah to discuss it with the government.
In the aisles, veteran legislator Aftab Sherpao tried again to keep the opposition from leaving the house, but to no avail. After the opposition’s departure, Defence Production Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain questioned their motives in persisting with their demand.
“If Mr Shah is really serious [about finding a solution], who is forcing him to walk out?” he asked, and pointed out that as the opposition benches emptied, Mr Shah had stopped to hear what Mr Achakzai had to say.
However, the minister claimed, Shah Mehmood Qureshi had signalled the opposition leader to leave the house and wondered whether “someone else” was giving Mr Shah his orders.