Saturday, June 4
Unprecedented rumpus on budget day
The National Assembly on Friday witnessed one the worst rumpuses in its parliamentary history, and that too on the budget day when the whole nation and ‘interested-in-Pakistan people’, both inquisitively and caringly, across the globe wanted to listen to the budget speech, which was inaudible to television viewers, and even to the media and guests sitting in the gallery.
However, the PPP and coalition parliamentarians had the luxury of using headphones, while the Opposition was not interested in the speech at all. Despite noise and unseated MNAs, the PPP men played cool, and did not react to ‘anything’.
As per sources, the budget speech was changed at the last minute, and that is why it was not available to the mediamen sitting in the gallery. In addition to this, it was surely the shortest of all speeches made during the post-military rules, perhaps due to two reasons, first the budget was out in the morning, and second, distracted Finance Minister gave it an abrupt ending.
It was certainly a ‘unique occasion’ in the recent history of Pakistan, precisely in nine parliamentary years. Nevertheless, it has set the tone for the remaining provincial budgetary speeches to be made in the provincial assemblies in the current month. In the same vein, it also shows that the novice democratic system will be experiences the same twists and turns of the 90s when the PPP and the PML-N were fighting head-on, only to be eliminated within 11 years of swapping positions.
For the last three budgetary years, it used to be all peaceful since the PML-N remained committed to keeping the PPP in power, but this year, it was not the case, and the PPP was tasting newly-galvanised Opposition in the National Assembly.
The show started with desk thumping in chorus, followed by continuous sloganeering – shame, shame, US stooges/slaves, US slavery intolerable, corrupt govt unacceptable, give honour to Judiciary, stop telling lies, IMF Budget unacceptable, stop drone attacks, and corrupt ministers unacceptable.
The next stage was the gathering of the PML-N MPs, especially females, in front of Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, who continued his budget speech even when one could not hear what he was saying. Even PML-Q’s Marvi Memon joined the chorus. In the end, Dr Shaikh started addressing the protesting opposition members, in particular the concluding remarks were meant for them.
The most active in the group was Shakeel Awan from Rawalpindi, who had defeated Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed to reach the Assembly. However, Opposition Leader Ch Nisar Ali Khan was standing at the far end of the assembled crowd.
On this occasion, Ahsan Iqbal tried to present ‘Sasti’ roti to Dr Shaikh, which was gratefully collected by Information Minister Dr Firdaus Ashiq Awan. In another ‘historical’ reference to the 90s when Tehmina Daultana hurled ‘chaddhar’ at an addressing president, she did an equally ‘commendable’ job when she pelted bangles at the Minister. However, Dr Firdaus was quick in doing the clean-up job.
When the Opposition was making noise, Federal Minister became totally indiscernible. Seeing this, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani gestured his party-men to wear headphones and start desk thumping to appreciate good points of the budget.
Like few others, PML-N’s Ayaz Mir kept himself at a ‘safe’ distance from the protesting MPs, and just stood his ground away – perhaps to show his disapproval of the protest – but only extended support to them from an annoying mile, both to the Treasury and the Opposition.
Nevertheless, the PPP bigwigs kept their cool. Twice security staff went to the Speaker, while PM’s Rehman (Malik) Baba also approached Gilani thrice, but no action was taken against the protesting parliamentarians, deeming themselves to be the only ‘righteous group’ which can serve the nation in the best possible manner.
Two simple queries are: Was it part of politically constructive? And whose purpose was served?