PTI lawmakers return amid slurs and walkouts

Speaker says PTI legislators are still legitimate members of the assembly


Qamar Zaman April 07, 2015
PHOTO: APP

ISLAMABAD:


Lawmakers of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) faced a hostile reception and were even labelled as “strangers” as they ended their more than seven-month long absence from parliament.


Both the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) let it be known to their counterparts that the status and legitimacy of PTI’s returning lawmakers were in question.

The party’s lawmakers had handed in their resignations en masse on August 22, 2014 – a week after the party began its sit-in campaign in Islamabad against alleged rigging in the May 2013 general elections. The resignations were, however, not accepted due to the intervention of an opposition parties’-led political Jirga.

Hours after the December 16 assault on an army-run school in Peshawar, the party called off its protests. Nevertheless the PTI leaders decided not to return to parliament until the government announced the formation of a judicial commission to probe alleged rigging in the May 2013 polls.

On Friday, the government issued a presidential decree sanctioning the setting up of a judicial commission to investigate the party’s vote fraud allegations. And forty-eight hours later, the party’s core committee decided to return to the national and provincial assemblies.

Finally, during the first half of the joint-session of parliament – convened to discuss Pakistan’s role in the Yemen crisis – a fierce war of words erupted between PTI MPs and members of other parties. The showdown detracted attention away from Defence Minister Khwaja Asif’s policy statement on the Yemen crisis.

PTI chief Imran Khan later told the media that no change had occurred in his party’s stance, pointing out that his party MPs had returned to the lower house only after the judicial commission was constituted.

“They are all [political parties] afraid [of us] and we stand by our stance that there was rigging in the 2013 general elections and we will give evidence in this regard to the judicial commission,” Imran said.

So when the session resumed after the break, the MQM was the first to raise objections over the PTI’s lawmakers’ presence in the house.  Dr Farooq Sattar of the MQM referred to Article 64 of the Constitution and said: “They [PTI MNAs] are no longer members of the National Assembly.”

Defence Minister Khwaja Asif also joined Sattar in criticising the PTI members. “They [PTI] should be asked one by one whether they had resigned. They should have some decency, morality and ethics as they abused parliament for seven months and are still saying that this assembly is a product of rigging,” he said.

National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, however, defended the legitimacy of the PTI lawmakers and said: “Those sitting inside this house are members of the assembly.”

Giving a ruling, he quoted Article 64 of the Constitution, a judgment of Supreme Court and Rules of Business to prove that verification of resignations was mandatory and that did not take place in the case of PTI members.

He pointed out that the house needed to take a decision over the PTI resignations within 40 days -- but that did not happen.

MQM lawmakers even walked out of the joint session in protest against what they called PTI’s ‘unconstitutional’ presence in parliament. “Those who are trying to uphold democratic values are playing with the Constitution,” Sattar told the media.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman protested against the speaker’s ruling and said the ruling was not acceptable to the house, as in his opinion, the PTI members were strangers in the assembly. He also walked out of the house.

Explaining the return of his party, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said: “We have changed our strategy to strengthen democratic institutions but have not changed our stance and still have reservations over the 2013 general elections.”

Return to Sindh, Punjab assemblies

The Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed on Monday rejoined Punjab Assembly along with 12 PTI MPAs after a seven-month hiatus. The PTI MPAs were welcomed in the house by Labour and Human Resources Minister Raja Ashfaq Sarwar and MPA Rana Sanaullah.

Addressing the media, Rasheed said various other political parties had raised the issue of rigging in the general elections but it was the PTI alone that came out in the streets and forced the government to carry out a comprehensive probe into the rigging allegations.

Meanwhile, four PTI MPAs in Sindh – Samar Ali Khan, Syed Hafeezuddin, Khuram Sher Zaman and Seema Zia – attended the Sindh Assembly session on Monday. Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani welcomed them to the session.

Meanwhile, the MQM’s Mohammad Hussain stood up to protest against the presence of PTI MPAs in the session. “I want to draw your attention towards the rules and procedures made by this assembly. They are attending the session against the dictates of the Constitution,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2015.

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