PTI govt survives full year of disruption and chaos

Legislative session marred by opposition protests

Saqib Vark August 24, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government crossed the first-year mark with usual blustery rhetoric, more promises and stiff resistance from opposition benches in parliament.

Protests by members of the opposition began with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s maiden speech. Khan’s inaugural address, as the leader of the house, was punctuated by opposition slogans against his government.  In response, members of the treasury benches also decided to show off their brute majority by heckling the opposition.

Despite the uproar in the house, the National Assembly (NA) somehow managed to hold three joint sessions during the first parliamentary year.

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In terms of the legislature's output, a total of 10 bills sailed through the bitterly divided house. Three of these bills were related to finance. Four bills covered routine amendments to existing laws and the remaining two were meant to repeal two old laws.

The most significant legislative victory was the passage of the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill, which increased the number of seats from erstwhile Fata in the National and Provincial Assemblies.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan acknowledged the parliamentary report card needed improvement. According to the minister, the parliament confronted many challenges during the first legislative year.

Apart from the shortfall in making new laws, the 15th legislature has a list full of unfulfilled promises. The prime minister's commitment to hold weekly Q&A sessions happens to be one of them. On the bright side, keeping its promise, the government managed to play the national anthem at the beginning of the parliamentary sessions.

Among other challenges, the house recorded poor attendance throughout the year. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal's Abdul Akbar Chitrali secured the highest spot by attending 88 legislative sessions. Leader of the Opposition, Shahbaz Sharif, showed up for 53 sessions, Bilawal Bhutto 38 and Asif Zardari attended 20 sessions. The attendance of lawmakers, including the prime minister himself, was low.

The current legislature also experienced a delay of over five months in the formation of its standing committees, which play a crucial role in scrutiny of legislation and oversight of the executive.

During the tumultuous year, the ruling party also managed to restrict the word ‘selected’ from being used to address Prime Minister Imran Khan. Irked by the move, members of the opposition staged several walkouts.

In the first of firsts, seven representatives of parliament, including Shahbaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Rana Sanaullah, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Ali Wazir, and Mohsin Dawar served prison terms.

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In other news from parliament, scuffles between lawmakers also made headlines. Among the more prominent ones were arguments between Abdul Majeed Khan Niazi and Agha Rafiullah, Ataullah and Zulfiqar Bachani, fiery former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, and PML-N's Mushahidullah Khan.

On the lighter side, the Hindu community decorated the main hall of the National Assembly with a forty feet high and sixty feet wide national flag ahead of the joint meeting of the house on Kashmir.

The joint session on the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan had the highest attendance from both sides of the political aisle. However, the spirit of political bipartisanship ended shortly after the arrest of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, which sparked fresh political wrangling in the already divided house.

According to sources, members of the treasury and opposition benches are expected to fight tooth and nail in the new legislative year.

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