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ISLAMABAD: Unruly scenes were witnessed in the National Assembly on Thursday as treasury and opposition lawmakers confronted each other with shoving matches and slogans, delaying a debate on the 26th constitutional amendment bill seeking open balloting in Senate elections.

The sitting of the National Assembly session was again rife with shouting and sloganeering with the opposition not allowing the Lower House to follow its plan for the day, briefly staging a walkout as well.

Several opposition MPs were also carrying placards with "chor" (thief) written on them while some had slogans urging the NA speaker to allow the opposition lawmakers to speak.

The pandemonium broke out after Federal Minister for Power Omar Ayub Khan challenged the opposition to "stand against him in an election", saying he had gotten elected by beating a PML-N rival candidate with a margin of 40,000 votes in the 2018 polls.

This created ruckus in the House as opposition lawmakers rose from their seats, throwing the torn copies of the agenda in the air, shouting slogans of "Go Imran Go, and "Aata Mehnga, Roti Mehngi" or costly flour and bread, while surrounding the speaker's dais.

A shoving match started between members of the government and the treasury benches due to which a few parliamentarians fell on the floor.

Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) took the microphone down from the deputy speaker's dais in protest, leaving Deputy Speaker NA, Qasim Soori, to postpone the session after members from both sides got into scuffles.

The fight in the House got so heated that members from both sides got into a shoving match, but interestingly Federal Minister for Information and Technology Fawad Chaudhry remained busy in filming the ruckus from his mobile phone and the State Minister for Climate Change, Zartaj Gul Wazir, kept looking on and smiling.

However, speaking later in the House, Chaudhry assailed the opposition for its stance against the proposed amendment, saying the PPP and the PML-N do not want the bill to pass as they want to keep the Senate a "millionaires' club".

He pointed out that the aforementioned parties had still not taken action against their members who had voted in support of Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in no-confidence motion against him in August 2019, despite saying that they would.

PPP's Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, a former prime minister delivered a hard-hitting speech, saying that it was committing fraud by introducing the bill for open ballot in the Upper House.

He said Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had agreed that the government did not have enough numbers to have the amendment passed.

"The government members of the parliament do not want to vote for the amendment as they themselves have received bribes against it," he added.

An angry Raja from Gujjar Khan told the treasury benches that they should learn how to speak with manners in the parliament.

Without pinpointing anyone, he said that three MNAs from Karachi had attacked PPP's Naveed Qamar.

"If they [the MNAs] had any manners, they would apologise to Naveed Qamar for attacking him...I don't know where these people come from," he lamented.

The Raja said the government was introducing the amendment to vilify the opposition's image, adding, a committee should be formed on the bill which should take proposals from all the members.

Amid loud sloganeering and desk thumping by the opposition members, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi took the floor and lambasted the opposition, saying they had defiled the sanctity of the parliament with their irresponsible behaviour.

Qureshi condemned the opposition's behaviour and warned that the government had shown too much restrain and respect but "if they think we would allow them to bulldoze the bill, they are living in a fool's paradise."

He admonished the opposition members for following "double-standard", and said the House would not function, if their behaviour and refusal to listen to the government continued anymore.

"If they don't want to listen, a one-sided debate cannot take place," he declared.

Addressing the bill, the foreign minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised the introduction of reforms and the government wanted to move forward with transparent reforms, adding, this was the reason the government had a moved a bill for amendments in Articles 59, 63 and 226 of the Constitution.

Qureshi said the bill was brought to uncover the motives of the candidates, who came to the Senate on the back of horse-trading and had no vision or support from any political party, and to root out and defeat corrupt practices.

The minister admitted the government did not have the two-thirds majority it needed but despite that it moved the bill because the flag-bearers of the Charter of Democracy had been asking for free and fair elections.

People could see the difference in their statements and actions, he said, pointing at the opposition benches where members were chanting against the government.

In an obvious reference to reports that the PPP is lobbying to elect former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani as chairman Senate, Qureshi said he had heard that they want to bring a former premier in the Senate and wanted him to be the Senate chairman.

The minister stated that since the PPP did not have a majority in Punjab, the only way they could try to achieve their goal was through horse-trading.

The foreign minister reaffirmed that the bill was not being brought out of political convenience to manufacture a result in the Senate polls of our liking and was in line with the PTI's stance of transparent politics.

He pointed out how the PTI had taken action against its members who sold their conscience after the results of the 2018 Senate elections, and hailed it as a first in Pakistan's and this parliament's history.

He asked why the opposition parties, who insisted on the introduction of election reforms to ensure free and fair elections and agreed that there should be open balloting, had moved away from their stance today.

"The nation can now see how they've changed colours like a chameleon," he said, adding, "They don't want the bill to pass because they are used to buying and selling their conscience".

Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar also echoed Qureshi and Chaudhry's sentiments about the reasons for bringing the bill.

He said the people of Pakistan and the people sitting in the Parliament had admitted that senators who come through horse-trading are a stain on Pakistan's democracy.

"The PML-N and the PPP have always accused each other of buying each other's parliamentarians...I simply can't understand why the opposition parties are creating a hue and cry on the bill," he added.

He said the opposition, at first, attempted to change the Senate chairman but faced humiliation in the process, adding, the opposition again joined hands against the government on FATF laws.

Umar said the apex court had described former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as a Godfather, adding the PML-N leader was part of a criminal mafia.

"Some of them have occupied illegal lands, others are heading the drug mafia," he said. Criticising the PML-N supremo, he said the former prime minister was comfortably sitting in London while his parliamentarians were in trouble here because of him. The House was prorogued sine die.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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