Lawmakers in both houses of Parliament spent most of the session discussing all manner of subjects except the finance bill itself, with members of the Senate protesting the election of their new opposition leader and members of the National Assembly choosing to discuss political disagreements over national security matters.
Protests broke out in the normally more dignified Senate chamber over the election of Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam as Senate opposition leader.
Haidri clinched the slot of the opposition leader in the upper house by securing the support of at least five independent senators from the treasury benches who were lured to the opposition. Haidri managed to garner 19 votes whereas PML-N’s Ishaq Dar bagged 15 votes.
This led to a pandemonium in the upper house when senators from the PML-N, JI, both the breakaway factions of the PML-Q, likeminded and dissidents, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) and some independent senators denounced the chairman’s decision.
“No, no, we don’t accept him, stop him,” were the chants opposition members raised when Haideri delivered his maiden speech to the house as the opposition leader.
“Your decision has filled the environment (in the house) with filth…is this the way to run the house?” asked PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq of Senate Chairman Farooq Naek, who announced the results of the election.
Abdur Rahim Mandokhail said it was the first time senators had witnessed an act of ‘notorious rigging in parliamentary history.’
Meanwhile debate in the National Assembly over the finance bill started off relatively calmly after the noisy protests that had marred the session on Friday when Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh had delivered the annual budget speech.
However, members of the lower house spent much of the time talking about their opinions on national security rather than discussing the actual budget.
Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan gave the traditional first speech in the budget debate but completely ignored the budget for the first half of it, focusing instead on making public some details of the closed-door joint session of Parliament that had been convened to address the unilateral US raid on Abbottabad that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Chaudhry Nisar accused several of his colleagues in the National Assembly of having been too conciliatory towards the military and claimed that he had done his duty as a legislator by asking them tough questions.
After a lengthy speech on political matters, Nisar finally got around to the federal budget and seemed content to say that the government’s economic management approach had failed and had caused the condition of the economy to deteriorate.
Former water and power minister Raja Pervez Ashraf responded on behalf of the government by saying that the finance bill was the best budget the government could come up with under the circumstances it faces.
With additional reporting by Zia Khan
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2011.
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