Yousaf Raza Gilani, a candidate for Senate from Sindh By Nusrat Javed

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Qasim Suri, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, never cared to act like a fair referee. He firmly believes that the Imran government has put him there, only to deliver for it. With anger-flashing face, he always sits in the presiding chair like an indifferent monarch. To look alive and not yawn, he continues chewing gum, otherwise considered impolite for proceedings of an allegedly “august house.

Yet on Thursday, even he went an extra mile to facilitate not one but four heavy weights from the treasury benches to deliver lengthy and bombastic speeches. Through the same, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry, Asad Umar and Shahzad Akbar Mirza spitefully portrayed their political opponents as un-repenting “looters and plunderers.” Nawaz Sharif and his daughter remained the main target, while Pakistan Peoples’ Party was mostly treated with biting taunts.

At least once, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the current head of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the grand alliance of opposition parties, was also accused of owning “palatial bungalows,” allegedly from funds coming from Iraq and Libya. Fawad Chaudhry, the Minister for Science and Technology, didn’t specify the timeframe of the alleged funding. But Saddam Hussein and Col Gaddafi seemed the obvious sponsors of Maulana.

The minister also claimed that Osama Bin Laden had furnished around a million US dollars for Nawaz Sharif. The former prime minister was expected to spend this money to topple the first government of Ms Benazir Bhutto in 1989. Instead of spending on ‘the cause,’ Chaudhry claimed with sadistic smile, Nawaz Sharif kept the same money for his personal use. The minister never cared to explain why the dreadful Osama forgave the alleged swindle during the heydays of his fear-instilling glory.

Brute speeches from the treasury provoked nonstop heckling from the opposition benches. Desperate attempts were made to drown the ministerial voices in loud and rude sloganeering. But the latest technology to muffle unwanted noises for digital cameras superbly helped the ministers to transmit their message to the mass of people, watching the National Assembly proceedings, “live”, without sitting in the visitors’ gallery. And they indeed were the sole target-audience of the government; amending constitution was not the ultimate objective.

With the ‘noble’ intent of preventing the possible sale and purchase of votes, when it comes to elect senators by the national and provincial assemblies, the government had suddenly laid a constitutional amendment during the national assembly sitting of Wednesday. Knowing well that they did not have the 2/3rd majority for getting it instantly passed by the house, PTI’s handlers of the parliamentary business deliberately pushed it, merely to score propaganda points.

Passionately speaking in favor of the proposed amendment, the ministers only wanted to drum the point that the opposition parties were yet not willing to “clean” our politics. Their leaders have truckload of ill-gotten money and they wouldn’t mind spending millions to get more seats, than they legitimately deserve, during forthcoming elections for 48 seats of the Senate.

Only one speaker, Raja Pervez Ashraf of the PPP, was given the floor to respond from the opposition after the government exhausted its reputation-damaging ammunition. But Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, had already forewarned that from now on the opposition legislators would no more be heard in silence. After shouting “enough is enough,” he also took a vow of firm resistance from the treasury benches and his colleagues did not let him down.

Parliamentary traditions discourage a sitting minister to demand a head count for checking quorum. Audaciously violating it, Fawad Chaudhry asked for it when Ashraf got the floor. After failing to prevent his speech due to the lack of quorum, the government benches continued to confuse and baffle Ashraf by shouting rude remarks against his person. The former prime minister stuck to his ground. But his speech miserably failed to mount a forceful counter attack.

A large group of the government backbenchers were determined to ‘sort out’ some opposition benchers, even with fistfights and reckless abusing. The ministers clearly encouraged them to act menacingly aggressive and the Deputy Speaker was simply not interested to ensure decorum. To secure himself, though, he asked a big platoon of security guards to stand around the Speaker’s dais like a protective wall.

After drumming its message with almost a punitive vengeance, the government did not care to put the proposed amendment for voting. The house was rather prorogued after consuming many hours in opposition bashing speeches. In spite of having 100-plus numbers, the opposition certainly looked completely helpless. Nothing seemed working for it. The government walked away like a victor.

After enduring unbearably ugly and chaotic proceedings of the National Assembly Thursday, we should now prepare ourselves for ruthless war between the government and opposition. Both of them are clearly set to do whatever, right or wrong, to win more and more seats from the quota of 48 to be vacant in March 2021.

The government would still prefer that above and beyond parliament, the Supreme Court of Pakistan could somehow “direct” that elections on these seats should be held through open balloting. It does not seem possible, though. Without the facility of ‘open’ voting, the government will certainly feel free and justified to employ all possible means to extract more seats than it should get from its current strength in the national and provincial assemblies.

It had already proved its enviable “expertise” to manage stunning victories, even if any election was held through secret voting. The brute looking majority of the opposition party shockingly failed to remove Sadiq Sanjrani, the Chairman Senate, through a motion of no confidence many months ago. The same “expertise” can again prove its worth during forthcoming elections of the Senate seats.

But many veterans of parliamentary games, crowding the opposition these days, continue to firmly believe that the Imran government had exhausted its winning streak; it has also lost the firm but discreet backing of the game-setting apparatus of the state. They are certain to spring stunning surprises.

Being a very experienced player of the power games, Shah Mahmood Qureshi sounded as if affirming their confidence through his speech Thursday. Contemptuously referring to opposition’s addiction to dirty practices of buying and selling votes, he specifically remembered Yousaf Raza Gilani, a former prime minister.

Gilani also hails from Multan and Qureshis had remained the archrivals of his family since the British Raj, whenever it came to monopolising local politics. Qureshi claimed that the PPP had planned to put Gilani as a candidate for the Senate from Sindh. If he won, the opposition would then try to place him as the Chairman Senate. Qureshi feigned pleasure while spreading the feeling that his archrival from Multan was perhaps planning to run away from “home grounds.”

He needed no tutor for discovering that after many years of hiatus, Gilani would get himself back into the power games, without appropriate winks and nods from formidable quarters, usually setting the political scenarios and appearances in our country. His alarm categorically conveyed that the Imran government was not feeling too confident and comfortable regarding the outcome of elections to be held for 48 seats of the Senate in the coming few weeks.