Bilawal asks PM to quit if he can’t cope with challenges

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Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday questioned the performance of the federal government in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and advised Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign if he could not perform amid growing challenges and let someone else do the job.

The PPP chairman expressed surprise over the assessment about the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country made by the premier and criticised his approach which had “undermined” the narrative of health experts and doctors warning against business as usual and calling for extra care while bringing life back to normal due to the existence of the highly contagious and deadly virus.

“If you are prime minister then you have to [behave] and work like a prime minister,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said while addressing a press conference at the auditorium hall of the Sindh Assembly.

“If you can’t do this then you should resign and let someone else do this job. This cannot go for long. As prime minister you need to lead the fight against every challenge and provide support to everyone who’s fighting that challenge.”

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PPP leader accuses Centre of abandoning provinces in fight against coronavirus

Accompanied by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and key members of his cabinet, the PPP chairman said that the provinces had been

abandoned by the Centre during the global pandemic which had brought the world’s greatest economies to knees. He blamed Islamabad for creating confusion that had weakened the effectiveness of the lockdown.

“I also get confused while listening to our prime minister,” he said while replying to a question about the federal government’s assessment and the death rate due to Covid-19 in the country which has stayed at about two per cent, comparatively much lower than other parts of the world.

“The prime minister sounds satisfied when he says that the death rate in our country is at two per cent. I believe that even this two per cent is a big number. Would deaths of 400,000 countrymen be bearable for our PM?” the PPP leader said.

He called on the federal government to spend more on healthcare system and health workers after it had succeeded in getting some fiscal space from international institutions and global community, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, G-20 and because of all time low oil prices.

To a question about any further ease in the lockdown in the PPP- ruled Sindh, he ruled out any change in the current situation and asked the chief minister to give weight to opinion of health experts, instead being pressurised by Islamabad and blackmailed by the business community.

“The Sindh government would take whatever decision it finds suitable for the people of the province,” he said. “But I think that while making decision only the opinion of experts and doctors should be considered. The provincial government should not care about pressure from the Centre or blackmailing by some traders or get influenced by ‘paid campaigns’ launched by a section of the media.”

He also accused the federal government of weakening the effectiveness of the lockdown due to conflicting statements from its ministers and then some moves which had damaged the scope of the moves made by the provincial government.

“If you look at the first phase of the lockdown, it was effective not only in Sindh but across the country,” said Mr Bhutto-Zardari. “Even the prime minister on television lauded the lockdown and termed it the key factor behind containing the spread of the virus. Then they all of a sudden he gave a nod to opening of businesses one after another, allowing barbers, tailors and launderers to resume work and worshippers to offer congregational prayers at mosques. That weakened the lockdown’s outcome.”

The PPP chairman was also critical about the federal government’s “non-seriousness” saying it had declared health solely as a provincial subject and denied support to the Sindh administration.

“This is a huge challenge which has shaken the world,” he said. “Whatever the Sindh government is doing right now is doing on its own. From testing to treatment and from imposition of lockdown to providing relief to the people in most parts of the province, the provincial government is going beyond its capacity.”

He emphasised the need for social distancing and appealed to the people of Sindh to cooperate with the administration while admitting that it was not an easy task for most of them.

“We have to fight this battle at two fronts,” he said. “On the one hand, we have to keep people safe from this pandemic and on the other provide relief to the poverty-stricken people. With all flaws and weakness in the lockdown, it’s still crucial and necessary. We appeal all of you to please stay at home. I know it’s not an easy task in this hot weather and the month of Ramazan. But we have to do this because the month of May is very critical. We have to save lives first.”

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2020