Asad Qaisar, the National Assembly Speaker, is finding it extremely difficult to regulate proceedings of the House, he presides with pomp and fury mostly associated with an upstart. He must not blame “others” for being exclusively responsible for the chaos, however. Not for a day since assuming his highly prestigious office, he ever attempted to show some spine or display any semblance of “neutrality” that his status requires.
During the past two sittings of the National Assembly since advent of the current week, he completely exposed his limits, when it came to control a deeply polarised House.
For sure, the Opposition occupying 140-plus seats in a house of 342 was simply not willing to quietly listen to the speech; Shaukat Fayyaz Tarin had delivered last week to present budgetary proposals for the financial year of 2021-22. Since the formation of the Imran government, however, the Opposition had always attempted to unnerve the previous finance ministers as well, with rude and aggressive heckling. Disruptive noises, which Tarin had endured, rather looked relatively tamed, if you recall chaotic scenes during presentation of the previous budgets.
Yet, the government strongly developed the feeling of having enough-is-enough. None other than Prime Minister Imran Khan firmly asked the handlers of parliamentary business for his party that Shehbaz Sharif must not be allowed to complete the speech, which the Opposition Leader traditionally delivers to initiate ‘general debate’ on budgetary proposals. His loyalists rather travelled an extra mile to execute his desire.
When the Opposition Leader stood to deliver his speech on Monday afternoon, a very senior of his ministers with many years of parliamentary experience, Shah Mahmood Qureshi instantly stood up to subvert it. The rest of ministers and a huge crowd of ruling party legislators furnish the fierce backup support to him. The noise and chaos the ruling party generated compelled the Speaker to adjourn house.
During the break, Asad Qaisar tried hard that government and opposition representatives agree to some sort of modus operandi to ensure smooth sailings during general debate on the proposed budget.
But in the end, he miserably failed in extracting any agreement. The opposition rather turned more aggressive, when the government’s representatives pressed for “written assurances” for them to commit that from now on, not only the Prime Minister but also some of his favorite ministers would be heard in parliament with “due deference.”
Instead of signing on the suggestion of “good conduct,” Shehbaz Sharif decided to deliver his speech on Tuesday, ‘come what may’. The ruling party members employed all possible tools to subvert it.
Asad Qaisar failed to calm them, in spite of suspending proceedings by suddenly announcing frequent breaks. Relentlessly building tensions between the government and opposition members eventually exploded in physical fights between ‘warring factions.’ The National Assembly floor definitely looked as if completely taken over by enraged football hooligans, forcing the Speaker to flee from the scene by announcing the adjournment for a day.
Without any homework, which also needed discreet contacts with Opposition Leaders, he unilaterally fixed the Wednesday sitting at 2:00pm. To ensure the much-desired calm there, he also banned the entry of seven legislators to house floor, “for an indefinite period.”
Apparently, he held only seven legislators mainly responsible for ugly scenes of Tuesday. Blaming them, he also attempted to look “fair.” Three legislator of the group of banned-seven belonged to the ruling party; the equal number was selected from Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and one was picked from Pakistan Peoples’ Party.
The person, punished from the PPP, Agha Rafiullah, no doubt is famous for his rabble-rousing conduct. But during the past two sittings, he was rather visibly auto-suggesting restrain to himself.
Faking neutrality and fairness, the Speaker certainly seemed ignorant of a truckload of videos that had gone viral on social media for depicting the Tuesday-bedlam in the National Assembly.
Two ministers, Murad Saeed and Aminullah Gandapur were clearly shown leading the assault on opposition benches. And the Speaker preferred not to reprimand them. Doing this he also appeared as if succumbing to an obvious looking bias. I don’t want to specifically name it. Suffice is to state that both Mr Saeed and Aminullah Gandapur also came to the National Assembly from the home province of Asad Qaisar, i.e., Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.
The opposition parties turned more furious with his “judicious decision” and refused to attend the Wednesday sitting, until he actively reconsidered it. Being stuck and yawning in the press gallery and lounge, a huge crowd of parliamentary reporters kept waiting for the National Assembly to start for more than two hours.
Staying put in his Chambers; Asad Qaisar continued attempting to reach the Opposition Leader. His staff, meanwhile, was issuing ‘tickers’ for electronic media to promote the feeling that he was holding lengthy negotiations with Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari while constantly dialing their phone numbers.
Finally, he suddenly took his chair at 4:20 pm. Once the usual practices of formally opening a National Assembly sitting were over, he surprised all by announcing that he was adjourning the house. Without announcing any date or time for the sitting to resume, he merely suggested that he had asked both the government and opposition to nominate six persons from the each side for a special parliamentary committee. The proposed committee would then set rules for conducting house business and the Speaker wanted to wait for nominations for it.
He left the chair without letting Shehbaz Sharif tell the opposition’s side of the story and preferred to act deaf to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as well in the same context. No wonder, his conduct instantly triggered rumours that instead of suggesting nominees to a committee, the Speaker wants to establish to seek help for restoring calm and sobriety to house proceedings, the opposition parties were actively considering the idea of posting a motion of no confidence against him.
Yet, the Speaker had the audacity to make another attempt to resume the sitting at around 5:50 pm. Shehbaz Sharif immediately took the floor to tell his side of the story. Doing the same, he clearly held the Speaker, primarily responsible for not being able to maintain decorum. His speech, once again, ignited rowdy noise from the treasury benches. The opposition decided to respond with far more vigour and in the heat of proving one-up, an opposition member threw a bottle of sanitizer, hopefully made of plastic, to ruling party benches like a missile. It appeared that the same had hit the eye of a ruling party legislator, Akram Cheema.
Asad Qaisar felt miserable and helpless and in sheer panic, left his seat while adjourning the house until Thursday noon.