Shehbaz skips NA’s crucial budget sitting

PPP criticizes opposition leaders absence; illegal passage of budget


Rizwan Shehzad   June 30, 2021
Shehbaz Sharif. PHOTO: Shehbaz Sharif Facebook page

ISLAMABAD:

The other day, Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif had thundered in his speech in the National Assembly that the opposition would work together and would not allow the PTI government to pass the “anti-people budget” for the next fiscal year.

However, when the Finance Bill 2021-22 sailed through the assembly on Tuesday Shehbaz Sharif was absent from the sitting along with a majority of the PML-N lawmakers.

During the proceeding, the government showed its strength and defeated the opposition when Minister for Finance Shaukat Tarin moved a motion for taking up the bill with a majority of 172 against 138 votes.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari while calling the budget approval “unconstitutional and illegal” said “all the PPP members are present” and that “I am responsible for my own party.” The PPP chairman said that he will raise the issue of absence of a number of opposition members with Shehbaz Sharif.”

Bilawal said NA Speaker Asad Qaiser had robbed the members of their votes, adding that what had happened in the National Assembly on Tuesday had set a bad precedent.

The PPP chairman said the speaker verbally approved the bill and when he challenged a voice vote, the speaker violated the rules and deprived him of his right.

“It is sad to say that the speaker has violated the sanctity of the parliament,” Bilawal said.  “Today's budget approval is unconstitutional and illegal and will remain illegal if this mistake is not rectified.”

Commenting on the absence of Shehbaz and others in a Twitter post, Bilawal’s sister’s Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari said her father – former president Asif Ali Zardari – attended both a court hearing and the NA session “despite underlying health conditions.”

Read: NA clears budget with majority vote

“So did 54 out of 56 PPP members (missing two had Covid). We remain in Pakistan. [However, only] 14 out of 84 members from the PML-N came to oppose the PTI-IMF budget,” she wrote.

Responding to the criticism, PML-N Secretary Information Marriyum Aurangzeb also took to Twitter to clarify that the opposition leader could not attend the session due to the death of his cousin, Mian Tariq Shafi, as he was busy with funeral rites in Lahore.

Marriyum said the fact is that the opposition could not stop the Finance Bill even if all the opposition lawmakers had attended the session.

“The government passed the budget with 172 votes, the bare minimum needed to form a government.

“With Akhtar Mengal’s absence and the JI’s abstention, the maximum votes possibly polled by the opposition would be 161. There would be no impact on passage of the Finance Bill.  Cheap point scoring won’t serve any purpose,” she added.

Marriyum said the opposition's job is to point out the flaws and shortcomings of a budget. This was the first budget in history in which significant changes were made at the behest of the opposition and the government had to take several U-turns over the proposed budget.

“More than 35 amendments were made in the 15 clauses proposed by the opposition in the Finance Bill,” she maintained, adding that there is a massive difference between the budget presented on June 12 and the budget approved on June 29.

“The opposition played its constitutional role in the best interest of the people,” she said. “The political rhetoric cannot change this reality.”

Time and again, the opposition has ratcheted up pressure on the government inside and outside the parliament but they have been able to bring the government to its knees only once when the prime minister had to take a vote of confidence from the assembly.

When the budget session started, the treasury benches did not allow Shehbaz Sharif to open debate on the Finance Bill and drowned him out with jeers, boos and catcalls.

The treasury benches had adopted this strategy in response to a similar behavior adopted by the opposition members during the parliamentary speeches of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

In fact, the opposition has not allowed the prime minister to speak on the floor of the house since his first speech in the parliament in 2018.

During the budget session, the treasury and opposition lawmakers later came to blows, a disgraceful situation after which both sides agreed to allow Shehbaz complete his budget speech on the fourth day.

Following the truce, sources said, the premier is expected to speak in the parliament on June 30 (today). NA Speaker Asad Qaiser has also sought assurance from the leader of the opposition that there will be no disruption by the opposition parties during the premier’s speech.

The NA secretariat and PML-N officials couldn’t be reached for comments.

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