Punjab Assembly Speaker Muhammad Sibtain Khan talks about CM’s vote of confidence, dissolution of the assembly and the political situation
Muhammad Sibtain Khan, the Punjab Assembly speaker, is a seasoned parliamentarian and a close ally of former premier Imran Khan. To say that he is a career politician is an understatement. A fourth term member of the Punjab Assembly, he represents his hometown of Mianwali where he has also served as the town committee from 1983 to 1987. In an exclusive interview with The News on Sunday, he talked about the chief minister’s vote of confidence, the proposed dissolution of the assembly and the emerging political situation. Excerpts:
he News on Sunday (TNS): Now that Chief Minister Parvez Elahi has secured the vote of confidence, will the assembly be dissolved?
Muhammad Sibtain Khan (MSK): You might recall that our leader, Imran Khan, had clearly stated that the chief minister would take the vote of confidence – that vote was held on Thursday – and then the assembly would be dissolved. That remains our plan. However, the Lahore High Court has temporarily restrained the chief minister from advising dissolution of the assembly. The court had asked him for an undertaking not to dissolve the assembly until January 11. We have to wait and see how the court finally rules. Regardless, our position is that the dissolution of the assembly will come soon. Then, we will seek a fresh mandate from the people.
TNS: Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and some other leaders of the PML-N had been saying that the government coalition lacked the required numbers in the assembly. How do you respond to the allegation that the coalition manipulated the vote count?
MSK: We had the necessary numbers. That is how the chief minister was able to secure 186 votes on Thursday. As you can see, we passed 30 laws in two days, including some business bills. Had we not had the necessary numbers, the opposition parties would have pointed that out during the assembly session. That was not the case; we had the required numbers in the assembly on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Let me remind you that even on Wednesday, when the session was in progress, they demanded that I adjourn the session, but the quorum was there.
TNS: Malik Ahmed Khan and some other senior leaders of the PML-N have claimed that the numbers of opposition legislators was greater than the treasury benches on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
MSK: If that was the case, why did they not bring it to my attention during the assembly session? And, why did they boycott the session, anticipating a defeat on Thursday?
TNS: What is your view of the governor’s asking the CM for the vote of confidence?
MSK: In my opinion, the points the governor invoked were unconstitutional. His communique said that sine Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain were not on good terms, the former had lost support of the majority in the House.
“We have to wait and see how the court rules. Regardless, our position on the matter is that the vote of confidence will be followed by the dissolution of the Punjab assembly.”
TNS: The Election Commission of Pakistan has issued bailable arrest warrants for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders Imran Khan, Asad Umer and Fawad Chaudhry in a contempt case. What is your opinion of the matter? How will the PTI deal with it?
MSK: First, I do not believe that what the chairman said constitutes contempt. I have yet to read the judgment and understand what specific words were considered contemptuous, before I can go further. However, it is clear that the ECP has shown bias from the start. I urge the ECP to act independently and avoid giving the impression that they are working on behalf of some other party. Second, we strongly condemn the issuance of arrest warrants for a popular leader and head of a political party. The action taken to defame a widely-supported leader is unacceptable. Our legal team has taken note of the situation. We will challenge it in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
TNS: Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a PTI ally, has said recently that Imran Khan is likely to be disqualified for public office. What is your take on this?
MSK: I am not willing to entertain the thought or listen to such predictions about a popular leader like Imran Khan. When he was removed from the office of prime minister, he stated that he would become even more ‘dangerous’ for his opponents. The statement has been proven true in the recent months. He remains popular even though he is no longer the prime minister. In the by-elections held on July 17, the PTI won 15 out of 20 seats. In the National Assembly by-elections, Imran Khan contested nine seats and won eight, even though the voters were aware that he would not participate in assembly proceedings. This is an indication of the strength of parliamentary democracy. He will not be disqualified; he will continue to lead the country and the PTI.
TNS: Considering the political capital they have lost since coming to power, do you think the PDM coalition is ready to call snap polls?
MSK: Look, the only way forward for the country is to hold elections. The alternative is a complete overhaul of the system and the introduction of a presidential or technocrats government, which is not provided for in the constitution.
TNS: Is there an authentic report about a government of technocrats?
MSK: Yes. Imran Khan has repeatedly mentioned the possibility. Such reports have been circulating. But this would be unjust. We are a parliamentary democracy. What do we have against seeking the mandate of the people of this country? Currently, the masses are clearly with Imran Khan.
TNS: Is your party in contact with the establishment or is there a complete deadlock?
MSK: I have no contacts with them. Nobody approached me. As far as the party chairman is concerned, I am not aware of their contacts or lack of those with the establishment.
TNS: Do you think the coalition government led by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif will be able to pull Pakistan out of the current economic crisis?
MSK: The financial crisis is closely linked to political stability. A country where the masses are protesting against the government and only some influential figures are supporting it, cannot have stability. The first and foremost requirement for economic stability is political stability. A stable government has to have the support and mandate of the people. A premier can on only negotiate with other countries when he enjoys the support of the people.
TNS: Was Sardar Usman Buzdar a good chief minister?
MSK: He was humble and polite. He carried out many development projects and followed the directions of PTI chairman. He inaugurated the Orange Line Metro Train. While there is always room for improvement, if you are talking about the margin for improvement, in my opinion, he performed pretty well.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore who reports on politics, economy and