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November 22, 2017

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NA session: govt, opposition absentees and attendees


ISLAMABAD: Some members of the PML-N and its allied parties on Tuesday remained absent during the vote on the PPP’s bill against Nawaz Sharif in the National Assembly.

Prominent absentees include Khusro Bakhtiar, Chairman Foreign Affairs Standing Committee and four federal ministers Khawaja Asif, Sikandar Bosan, Murtaza Jatoi, Sadruddin Rashdi, while Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal also remained absent.

From the JUI-F, out of 13 members, only Akram Durrani, Maulana Amir Zaman and Maulana Agha were present in the Assembly, while Maulana Fazlur Rehman was also absent. The head of another allied party PkMAP Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Abdul Qahar Khan were also not present.

The PML-Functional has only five members, but its Federal Minister Pir Sadruddin Rashdi was also absent from the session. All Fata members were also not present as GG Jamal, Alhaj Shah Jee Gul Afridi and Sajid Hussain Turi were not present in the assembly.

From the opposition side, 46 members from the PPP, 33 from the PTI, 24 from the MQM, four from the JI and two members each from the PML-Q and ANP participated. Member of the PML-N Sarzamin also supported the opposition and casted vote against the government, while the ruling party’s Raza Hayat Haraj was also absent. Ijazul Haq also did not join the session.

Some 165 members of the PML-N were present in the session. However, only 159 cast their vote while 22 remained absent. Other absent members include Sarzamin, Nazir Khan, Raja Matloob Mehdi, Nisar Jat, Najaf Sial, Bilal Virk, Rana Qasim Noon, Ch Tahir Iqbal, Sardar Jafar Leghari, Malik Sultan Hanjra, Makhdomzada Basit, Alimdad Lalika, Tahir Bashir Cheema, Khalid Magsi, Arifa Khalid and Asma Mamdot.

Nasima Panezai, member PkMAP, Iftikharudin Sadar of Musharraf’s APML, and Sardar Bangalzai of the National Party also voted in favour of the govt. The PPP absent members include Ali Mahar, Aamir Magsi, Shabir Bijarani, Makhdoom Saeeduzzaman, Belum Hasnain and Shahjahan Baloch.

The PTI chairman Imran Khan, Mussarat Zaib, Nasir Khattak and Aisha Gulalai were also absent from the session. The Tuesday’s decisive parliamentary victory of embattled PML-N came as a surprise for many political pundits and opposition leaders who were expecting major defections in the ruling party during the vote on PPP’s sponsored bill.

The ruling party defeated the bill with 163 votes while opposition could gather only 98 votes in favour of the draft legislation seeking to restrict disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif from heading the PML-N. Although over 22 PML-N members and 30 coalition members still remained absent during the voting and one voted against the party, the comfortable margin of party’s victory put to rest the rumours that ruling party is facing a large scale revolt from within.

Even the opposition members could not hide their shock on the floor of House after seeing large number of PML-N members in the National Assembly. In their speeches Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Pakistan People’s Party leaders Khursheed Shah and Azra Fazal Pechuho mentioned the heavy presence of ruling party members to vote on the bill while lamenting their absence in the House during other important legislations.

Several opposition figures and TV anchors had predicted up to 70 defections in PML-N before the Tuesday voting. Even the key leaders of PML-N had publically acknowledged efforts to create a forward block in the party during last few weeks. Federal Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and provincial minister Rana Sanaullah had informed the media on record that ruling party members are receiving calls from unknown number asking them to refrain from voting in favour of the party in the Parliament.

However the strong show on Tuesday put to rest rumours of mass exodus from the ruling party, which is facing difficulties on several front after disqualification of its leader Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister in July this year. The party managed to get 165 members out of its 188 to attend the session although 159 attend the actual voting. Only 22 party members did not attend the session including Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif.

Although PML-N had managed to avert a leadership crisis after successfully amending a Musharraf-era law barring a disqualified person from holding top party post, its difficulties are far from over. Sharif family and several other top leaders of the party are facing probes by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in multiple corruption cases amidst reports of party’s serious differences with establishment and its confrontation with superior judiciary.

To further complicate things on October 23, the opposition controlled Senate passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2017 with a majority vote, re-barring disqualified persons from taking part in political activities.

“Tuesday’s vote has proven that opponents of N League have no chance in this Assembly to harm Nawaz Sharif through any parliamentary move or defections,” said senior journalist and political analysts Suhail Warraich. “No One was expecting that PML-N will get this much support in the Parliament today as efforts were going for a long time to cause defections in the party,” he said.

Warraich said about 20 members of the party remained absent from voting process. “As a matter of routine we see 8 to 10 members absent from parliamentary voting due to overseas visits etc. The real number of absentees is about 10 which is not a big number and importantly no one came out in public against the party in the Parliament apart from Zafarullah Jamali which is significant,” Warraich said.

He added that the only hope left for the opponents of Nawaz is to cause defection in the party after the Assembly is dissolved. “This means PML-N remains successful in strategy and the other side has failed in this biggest showdown. It was significant as PTI and PPP were on the same page and the matter in question was disqualification of Nawaz Sharif,” he added.

Senior political analyst and columnist Zahid Hussain believe that Tuesday’s vote has proven that there was no truth in reports that there is a serious effort to cause defections in PML-N. “If there were serious phone calls to PML-N members, the result of Tuesday’s vote would have been different,” Hussain said. He said the opposition was not expecting that its bill would be passed but it made an attempt to test waters.

“Still the absence of about two dozen PML-N members in the voting process has created question marks,” he added. Zahid Hussain admitted that still there are no signs that PML-N is facing any existential threat despite the fact that ruling coalition was short of 50 votes on Tuesday. “Since elections are near and all members would like to get the party ticket, it is not easy for them to vote against party despite having reservations,” he concluded.

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