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April 6, 2021

Despite split in opposition: Govt faces defeat over resolution on corona vaccine

Top Story

April 6, 2021

ISLAMABAD: As the Senate met on Monday for its first regular session of a new parliamentary year, Leader of Opposition Yusuf Raza Gilani vowed to carry with him the entire opposition and also become the voice of the government, whereas the PML-N pledged to play its independent role as a real opposition.

The new session was marred by loud charges and counter-charges from some senators of the opposition benches and those in the treasury, who had apparently supported Gilani to become the opposition leader. The opposition was divided, mainly into two groups and hence the PDM internal rift reached the Senate. There was a strong demand from the PML-N for investigation into the installation of spy cameras during the Senate elections of chairman and deputy chairman.

The House offered fateha for the ATC judge and his family members who were murdered in Swabi on Sunday. JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad raised this matter and talked about the missing of four youths and recovery of their decomposed bodies, when their family members and others threatened to march towards Islamabad. He described the attack on the ATC judge an assault on the entire judiciary and the masses.

The otherwise divided opposition, however, joined hands when JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza moved a resolution, mainly to grill the government with regard to its steps on procuring COVID-19 vaccination. The treasury opposed it and wanted deletion of the portion, criticizing the government but the opposition rejected it, though Gilani suggested that the mover might amend it accordingly, which he did not.

To this, the resolution was put for a voice vote first then head count was carried out, which showed 43 (opposition) members supported it while 31 (treasury senators) were opposed to it. This indicated that the opposition parties might be forming unity on an issue-to-issue basis.

Speaking for the first time in the Senate, Gilani promised to take along the entire opposition and also speak on behalf of the government, if and when it faces difficulty. “We will speak on their behalf too,” he said in a reconciliatory tone. He said the Quaid-i-Azam had preferred the parliamentary form of government and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto created Senate to give due representation of the federating units, smelling the sense of deprivation in the provinces. Gilani believed that had this been realized earlier, there would have been no Dhaka fall. He emphasized that the Senate is of utmost importance in the federating system. He said: “We all have to address the problems in this country, which we know. It is our duty to be the spokesperson of people; we are all one to give relief to people.” He pointed out that the basic formula when the PDM was formed was to safeguard the constitutional, democratic and economic rights, rights of women and minorities, labour class and workers.

Before he took the floor after recitation from the Holy Quran, Senator Shafiq Tareen of the PkMAP rose to agitate on not being allotted a seat in the front row, being the parliamentary leader of his party and that Senator Muhammad Qasim of the BNP-Mengal is also with him.

PML-N nominee for the slot of opposition leader Azam Nazeer Tarar said they were hurt over the declaration of the opposition leader and how ‘five gifts’ came from the other side for this purpose. This remark enraged some senators on the treasury side, who rose to speak loudly. “Please resume your seats, let there be order in the House,” Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani repeatedly said to quiet them.

He recalled how the secrecy of vote was trampled upon when spy cameras were installed on March 12 and added that everyone knew what had happened on that day. “Whose game plan was to fix hidden cameras and who wanted to benefit from them must be exposed. He said they were 27 members, belonging to PML-N, JUI-Fazl, BNP-Mengal, National Party and PkMAP, and would play their role as a real opposition on national issues. He urged allotment of separate seats for his group. He spoke highly for the role of the Election Commission in the Senate elections and its decision of re-poll in NA-75, Daska, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Federal Minister Azam Swati reminded the chair of his pending application, seeking investigation into the camera issue. He blasted the government for what he called the poor law and order, on the issue of missing persons and rising incidents of lack of security. He condemned the murder of the ATC judge along with his family.

To this, the chairman Senate assured him that the matter of cameras would be investigated and forensically probed. He assured looking into his second request in his chamber and the one made by Senator Tareen.

The opposition successfully thwarted the government bid to get a resolution amended. Speaking on Kamran Murtaza’s resolution, Tarar noted that the corona vaccination ratio in Pakistan is less than India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, as the government is sleeping with regard to rising inflation as well.

Gilani said coronavirus is a major issue and that the vaccination is still confined to old people, whereas the entire nation needs it. “It is not a political issue but the issue is across the board. Even the PM could not save himself from it: either the vaccination must be free or at an affordable rate,” he said.

Leading the opposition on the resolution, PPP Parliamentary Leader Sherry Rehman criticised the pricing of COVID vaccine and noted: “it is alarming that Pakistan has now over 61,000 active coronavirus cases and we still do not know if the government has ordered vaccine or not. The actual spread of the virus is likely to be far higher due to limited testing, with Pakistan’s test-positive rate of 9.9% far higher than the World Health Organization’s guideline figure of 5%”. She continued that according to the WHO, vaccination should be a fundamental right. “But it is a matter of great concern that the poor are once again being neglected. Nearly 1,400 doses of the vaccine donated by China have either been administered to unauthorised persons or gone missing in Punjab. Who will take responsibility for this?” She asked.

“Pakistan is going through the third wave which is considered to be extremely dangerous while DRAP is still debating on the prices. Can the government tell us the exact figure of the vaccines they have imported? We are grateful to China for saving our lives but the federal government’s lack of action is a matter of grave concern. People are going to the vaccination centres only to be told that the doses have finished. What is going on? All South Asian countries like Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India are testing more than us and are actively vaccinating their people,” she claimed.

She regretted that the government has still not made up its mind on whether they should order the vaccines or not. “What are we waiting for? Health is a basic right which is guaranteed by our Constitution and the government must tell us why it is delaying the import of vaccines,” she asked.

The treasury benches castigated the opposition for politicizing a national issue, which is being faced in all parts of the world while the government of Pakistan has been appreciated the world over for successfully handling it far better than the rest despite having limited resources. “Our narrative should be a manifestation of national interest while politics of agitation and no threat can remove PM Imran Khan from his mission. I invite the opposition parties. Let's work together on reforms,” said Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Wasim.

He contended that the opposition is expected to play a positive role in the House as Pakistan's parliamentary system consisted of a bicameral legislature and the Senate has an important role to play. “The issue of COVID-19 is not just a question of government or opposition but of the survival of the whole country. The government is fully aware of its responsibility. But regrettably, the resolution is a charge-sheet against the government, which is totally baseless,” he said.

Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to PM Sania Nishtar called upon the entire society to combat the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and make the vaccination drive successful. She said the virus predicament is a national security issue and needs to be combated collectively. Referring to the resolution, she insisted on putting politics aside. She said the government successfully dealt with the first two waves of the virus keeping in view the lives and livelihood of citizens while its Ehsaas cash initiative was highly successful when there was a threat of civil unrest.

She pointed out that 27 million dozes were to arrive in Pakistan in February this year but now these will be available in May. She emphasized that the society had to collectively respond to the COVID-19 challenge while the government is diligently taking the required decisions and measures. The Senate also adopted the Pakistan Single Window Bill, 2021 and prorogued sine die.