The government moved a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly on Wednesday aimed at changing the method of voting in the Senate elections, amid noisy protest from the opposition benches.
The session descended into chaos as opposition lawmakers resorted to sloganeering even whistleblowing, against the government, regularly disrupting speeches from the treasury benches. To restore calm, two federal ministers went to the opposition seats to ask them to end their protest.
Law Minister Barrister Forough Naseem introduced the 26th Amendment Bill, saying that it included amendments to allow open balloting in the Senate election and dual nationals to contest the polls. He urged the opposition to read the Constitution before criticising the bill.
Speaking in the house, Ahsan Iqbal of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) fired a broadside against the government, saying that “this whole constitutional package is for the friends” of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Iqbal said that democracy in the world is run on two wheels – the government and the opposition. “Running a government requires patience. The job of the government is to listen to the criticism of the opposition and correct itself,” he said.
“In the last two and a half years, the PML-N’s motions and questions had not been taken up in the sessions, deliberately,” he charged. However, the speaker told the PML-N leader to visit him in his chamber and he [speaker] would remove his reservations.
“Talk about constitutional amendment,” Qaiser told Iqbal, who replied that “when you [the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] were in the opposition, the opposition used to talk for two hours but now we can’t raise our voice, our mics are turned off”. The speaker said: “I run the House according to the law.”
Iqbal then asked the opposition members to raise their hands if they thought the speaker ran the house properly. In response, the opposition lawmakers raised slogans of “no-no”. Continuing, Iqbal said if the opposition was not allowed to raise public issues, it would lead to confrontation.
“People are crying over petrol price hike. Prices of petroleum have been raised five times in two months. At present, all universities are in deficit. The future of the youth is at stake. Will there be any research in universities when they do not have the money to pay salaries,” he said.
“Our aviation industry had gone down. PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] had gone down after the [minister’s] statement about fake licences of 250 pilots. Steel Mills employees are crying that they have been denied of golden handshake. Farmers do not get electricity connection for six months.”
The former interior minister said that if the government questioned “our patriotism, we have serious questions about them, too”. In his hard hitting speech the PML-N leader also criticised Communication Minister Murad Saeed.
However, when Murad Saeed stood up to respond to Iqbal’s tirade, the opposition started shouting slogans. “Why did you run away from the courts,” the minister asked, in an apparent reference to the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
As opposition’s sloganeering continued, the minister said they were making noises so that more facts did not come to light. “I will move a privilege motion on the allegation levelled by Ahsan Iqbal,” he said. At this an opposition lawmaker blew whistle.
“Why did Sajjan Jindal was called without a visa? You met [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi in secret,” the minister said, adding that this house could not be run according to the wishes of the opposition benches.
As the noise in the house grew louder, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went to the opposition benches and called for an end to the noise and protests.
Qureshi said that the opposition must speak in the house but it should listen too. “Let’s listen to each other’s point of view patiently, if we want to move forward. We are ready to listen,” he said. “Don’t make fun of anyone,” he advised the opposition lawmakers.
Adviser to Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan told the house that the amendment in the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill sought to change Article 59 to introduce open vote in the Senate election instead of the procedure of single transferable vote.
Maulana Asad Mehmood of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said that the opposition was also ready to speak about the legislation. “Our suggestions for the legislation should be listened but we will protest against the behaviour of the government.”
During Mehmood’s speech, the treasury benches created noise in the house. Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), while speaking next, said that the government benches were doing the same thing, which should have been done by the opposition.
The session could not continue further due to noisy protests in the house and it was adjourned till Thursday (today) morning.