The National Assembly budget session started with disorder on Friday morning and ended in pandemonium in the afternoon after loud protests and verbal exchanges between lawmakers prevented the proceedings from beginning in earnest.
As the day commenced, PTI MNAs created a ruckus while former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf tried to address the assembly.
This led NA Speaker Asad Qaiser to adjourn proceedings for ten minutes initially. However, the chaos persisted even after the proceedings resumed, forcing the speaker to adjourn the session till after Friday prayers.
When the session began again after 2pm, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri repeatedly urged Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif to speak first, as per the rules of the house. However, the opposition leader insisted that the JUI-F lawmakers should be allowed to address the house first.
PTI minister Fawad Chaudhry and other MNAs opposed giving the floor to JUI-F’s lawmakers, who were demanding they speak first. Suri said that Shehbaz should be the first to speak “unless he wants to forgo his turn”. The back and forth between the deputy speaker and leader of the opposition went on for more than half an hour before the former finally got up to speak.
With the deputy speaker struggling to maintain order in the house, Shehbaz began his speech by criticising the government’s economic policies. He accused the Imran Khan-led government of taking the dollar up “to the skies” against the rupee and said its “propaganda machinery” could not hide the administration’s “worst performance”.
The opposition leader had only gotten a few words in when the assembly session was temporarily halted due to loud protests from the government lawmakers. With the situation having reached an impasse, Deputy Speaker Suri announced the adjournment of the session until 4pm on Monday.
Earlier, when the point of order for the session was announced, PPP protested against the non-issuance of former president Asif Ali Zardari’s production orders, who was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Monday.
The speaker asked Shehbaz Sharif to begin his address.
Shehbaz said that Ashraf wanted to say something and he should be given the time to speak.
Taking the floor, the PPP leader brought up the production orders of Zardari.
“Currently Asif Ali Zardari is present in Islamabad at a distance of three minutes. He is a former president [and] his absence in this important session of the house and the non-issuance of his production orders will not be considered a good tradition in this house,” said Ashraf.
Opposition stages walkout in Senate
Meanwhile, the opposition walked out of a Senate session due to the non-issuance of Zardari’s production order and a lack of action on a resolution approved in the upper house regarding the references against judges.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said that NAB had arrested Zardari from his house, a day before the budget, adding that she had heard that arrest warrants for Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur had also been issued.
She said that the former president had been appearing in courts and for NAB’s questioning.
“Politicians are being harassed,” Rehman said. “These are retaliatory acts.”
The opposition continued their protest outside the Senate.
Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz expressed displeasure at the behaviour of the opposition.
“One political party is taking the house hostage,” he said, adding that the government would not allow this and first the agenda of the house would be completed.
PTI’s Dr Shahzad Waseem said that first production orders for former finance minister Ishaq Dar should be issued, who he said had not yet taken an oath since becoming a senator.
The opposition also discussed the federal budget which was presented in the NA by Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar on Tuesday.
PPP’s Rehman said that the parliamentary committee was not consulted in the preparation of the budget. She said that a “tsunami” had taken place in the prices of oil, gas and food and drink items.
PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani said that the budget had been “illegally presented” in the NA.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani said that a matter pertaining to the other house could not be discussed here.
While asking the Senate chairman to inquire with the NA speaker about the matter, Rabbani said that the budget had been made on the directions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sanjrani took the floor back from the PPP senator.
In reference to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address on Tuesday night vowing to go after the “thieves who left the country badly in debt,” PML-N Senator Abdul Qayyum said the premier should not use the language of thanaydaars (police station officers).
He offered the government assistance in improving the economic situation.
Zardari’s production orders
On Thursday, a three-member opposition delegation called on the NA speaker at the latter’s official residence to make a formal demand for issuance of production orders for four arrested MNAs, including Zardari, to allow them to attend the ongoing budget session.
The opposition members — Syed Khursheed Shah and Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP and Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed of the PML-N — had urged the speaker to issue the production order for Zardari so that he could represent the people of his Nawabshah constituency during the debate on the federal budget.
Later, an official handout was issued by the NA Secretariat quoting Qaiser as saying that he was cognisant of his responsibilities and was playing his constitutional role.
The speaker had said that he was the custodian of the house and all the members were being treated with equality. He said the PPP and the PML-N members had requested him to issue the production order for Zardari.