‘N’ gets first taste of real opposition


LAHORE – The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in Punjab had its first taste of a strong and vocal opposition on Friday, seemingly at a loss before the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) legislators in the Punjab Assembly, who vehemently objected to the PML-Quaid Unification Bloc’s planned merger with the PML-N.
Pandemonium reigned in the provincial assembly as the PML-N leadership came face to face with a tough opposition, the lack of which it had taken for granted until it ended its alliance with the PPP in the province and subsequently booted the party from the Punjab government, effectively creating an opposition for itself.
The House resembled a fish market as treasury and opposition members shouted slogans against each other over the PML-Q defectors. Barriers of civility and decency swiftly broke down as parliamentarians from the PML-N and bloc members crossed all limits of decency in “exposing” the alleged corruption of their opponents. Female parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide were on their feet throughout what seemed more like a would-be brawl than a debate, and shouted slogans, making it difficult to comprehend anything.
The House echoed with the slogans – quite a few of which were objectionable – from both sides but the PPP parliamentarians’ aggressive policy as the opposition left no room for treasury members to have a say, and so seemed the case with the rest of the PML-N ministers as well. The PML-N assembly members had no choice but to take the bruises because they could not adjourn the House proceedings, having summoned the Punjab Assembly session themselves.
A small respite came in the form of two prayer breaks announced by the speaker, however, which rescued the PML-N members. The Punjab Assembly proceedings began on Friday for its 23rd session, only a few minutes later than its schedule, under the chair of Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal. Soon after the recitation of verses from the Holy Quran and naat, the assembly secretary announced the panel of chairmen for the session. The MPAs named for the panel included Dr Asad Ashraf, Mian Yawar Zaman, Amanullah Khan Dreshak and Bushra Gardezi.
The House proceedings went on smoothly in the beginning as minority member Kamran Michael requested two minutes of silence to mourn slain federal minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti. He also moved a resolution to condemn Bhatti’s assassination. Then, all hell broke loose as PPP and PML-Q members began shouting slogans against the Unification Bloc.
“Lotay” (turncoats) was a favourite slur at the 23rd session of the Punjab Assembly as things quickly got out of hand. The PML-N MPAs’ attempts to fight fire with fire fizzled out, however, as the PPP definitely took charge in a vivid display of dominance. Minority members joined the opposition sitting on the floor of the House to protest against the promotion of what they called “Lota culture.”
Opposition Leader Raja Riaz gave a fiery speech that went on for five hours. He said that the PML-N would now see what it was to have an opposition in the assembly. He said that the PPP was still ready to help the PML-N, but only sans the “Lotas”. Riaz called Unification Bloc members “chicks” and said PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif should return them to the mother hen: PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
He offered the PPP’s support if the PML-N leadership agreed to disassociate itself from the dissidents. He questioned the PML-N’s need for politicians who had aligned themselves with military dictator Pervez Musharraf and supported his “black regime”. Riaz also told the house that there were 52 government officers who had not been posted anywhere because they were considered “black sheep”, but were now being posted upon request from Unification Bloc members.
He said when he had personally met Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to request medical treatment for a MPA’s wife, he was refused, but the government interestingly had enough money to pay for bloc leader Atta Maneka’s medical treatment abroad. He denounced the PML-N government and said that its tall claim of good governance fell flat on its face with the deteriorating law and order in the province, with over 200 robberies committed in Lahore alone.
He said students, doctors, clerks, teachers, labourers and even nurses were out on the streets to fight for their basic rights, not to mention that the “good governance” had “eaten up the roll numbers slips” of matriculation students. Riaz alleged that the chief minister had made all his decisions after consultations with his secretary Dr Tauqeer, who he said would be dealt with sternly for misbehaving with MPAs, because the days of PML-N humiliating assembly members were history.
He said that the PPP would work to free the chief minister from the influence of Dr Tauqeer. Riaz next assaulted the Aashiyana Housing Scheme, saying that even engineers had now conceded that the project was not possible. He also said billions of rupees had been wasted on Danish Schools when 1,600 schools of the province did not even have a roof.
He said that the PPP would force the chief minister to convene a cabinet meeting twice a month now, and the chief minister would have to work like a “chief public servant” now. He also warned bureaucrats to mend their ways and deal politely with elected representatives. Riaz turned up the heat in his rhetoric with “threats” to bureaucrats who dared humiliate MPAs, saying that they would be beaten up at the stars of the Punjab Assembly.
Raja expressed further ire at the speaker for the decision to bar Pakistan Television (PTV) from covering the assembly session and said it was a conspiracy against him. The speaker said that he had not barred PTV from coming to Punjab Assembly, and Riaz retorted with a demand that PTV be called back or he would not continue. However, the speaker had to adjourn house proceedings till Monday afternoon.