Despite numerous political and legal challenges, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led (PPP) government on Thursday became Pakistan’s first democratically-elected government to pass its fifth and final budget in the National Assembly (NA). The historic moment was accompanied by members of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) staging their noisiest protest ever in the house.
These attempts were in vain, however, as the finance bill for fiscal year 2012-13 sailed through. Members from PPP and its allies – Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) – burst into cheers the moment the house approved the bill after the day-long proceedings.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, despite the pride he shows in being the longest surviving premier in the country’s checkered history, was absent though in what appeared to be the most glorious moments of his government.
PML-N has been seeking Gilani’s resignation since the Supreme Court convicted him for contempt charges over failing to write a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening dropped graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh introduced some minor amendments to the original draft of the bill he presented in the house on June 1.
Unlike previous years though, it took the government less than a fortnight and nine sittings to get the budget passed since the opposition neither participated in the debate nor moved any cut motions—proposals to reduce allocations for certain heads.
Under the original schedule, the house was to approve the budget with the total outlay of Rs2.96 trillion on June 22. But the opposition’s strategy of avoiding debate gave the treasury bench an opportunity to wind things up ahead of time.
Earlier in the proceedings, the house approved more than 151 demands for grants. Supplementary grants worth Rs58.274 billion for the financial year ending on June 30 (2011-12) were also approved by the house before passing the budget.
Though the government said it feels relieved by the passing of the budget, the urgency it exhibited in this regard has raised political uncertainty for the future.
At an overnight meeting of leaders from allied parties, President Zardari reportedly discussed plans of announcing fresh elections any time from now with his associates. There was no final decision though.
The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday said it will soon hear several petitions clubbed together, challenging NA speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza’s refusal to disqualify PM Gilani.
Experts believe the government’s urgency with the budget may in part be since it anticipates a hostile decision in that case. A court order to disqualify Gilani will automatically dissolve the government.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2012.