ISLAMABAD: In the National Assembly, the government on Monday faced embarrassment over the snowballing gas crisis as one of its own coalition partners staged a walkout from the house. Lawmakers from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) staged back-to-back walkouts from the assembly in protest against a massive increase in CNG prices and the government’s gas load management plan.
In a rare move, Leader of the House Yousaf Raza Gilani earlier met with leaders from the allied parties and left the house without making a policy statement over the gas crisis which has sparked violent countrywide protests.
The prime minister went up to the seat of Asfandyar Wali Khan, chief of the Awami National Party, where Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and MQM legislator Haider Abbas Rizvi were also present. After a brief chit-chat with them, the prime minister left the house.
PML-N lawmakers Chaudhry Barjees Tahir, Malik Abrar, Tehmina Daultana and Mehtab Abbasi came down hard on the government for its ‘failure to overcome the gas crisis.’
They called upon the government to concede its failure, step down and call fresh parliamentary elections before a “dictator steps in or the Supreme Court hands down a verdict.”
In response, Minister for Water and Power Naveed Qamar acknowledged the gravity of the situation. He promised that the situation would improve within a ‘few days’. But he didn’t say how his ministry would bridge the two billion cubic feet gap in demand and supply of gas.
Qamar requested the opposition to not politicise the issue and instead “work hand in hand with the government to overcome this crisis.”
But PML-N legislator Malik Abrar shot back: “You should resign if you do not have a solution. We don’t want to share the blame for your negligence.”
At this moment, Mehtab Abbasi stepped in – announcing a walkout from the house. “We don’t want to topple the government but the people do,” he asserted. He also criticised the prime minister for leaving the house without making a policy statement on the issue.
MQM legislator Syed Asif Husnain complained to Chairman Nawab Yousaf Talpur that the government had not allowed his party to move a call attention notice to avoid embarrassment.
His party’s lawmakers, later, walked out from the proceedings to protest the government’s ‘non-serious attitude.’
Since neither the prime minister nor the petroleum minister was in the house, Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah stood up to respond to the MQM’s call attention notice. The party had sought a government justification for the 14 per cent increase in CNG prices.
“Every year, the country faces gas shortage but this time around protests are being engineered,” Shah said and described MQM’s walkout as a move to gain political mileage out of the issue.
Justifying the hike in CNG prices, Shah said, “We have not increased tariff for domestic consumers.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2012.