The National Assembly session on Wednesday turned tense following a fierce discussion between PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi before Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address.
Bilawal stated in his address that if the government hadn’t “rigged” the federal budget vote yesterday, the whole world would have known that the prime minister didn’t have 172 votes.
The National Assembly had approved the budget for the next fiscal year with a majority vote the day before, despite the opposition’s poor performance.
Imran Khan, a confident-looking Prime Minister, had only stayed for 50 minutes before leaving the assembly hall even before the final vote on the budget, realizing that his presence in the house was no longer required to ensure the presence of Treasury members, who had clearly outnumbered the opposition.
The prime minister entered the assembly chamber at a time when the chair had already ordered a headcount on the opposition’s demand that the finance bill be taken up for discussion and final vote, as proposed by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin. With 172-138 votes in favor, the motion was passed.
Almost all PML-N members had departed the house when the budget was presented to a voice vote, leaving the PPP and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam members remaining.
During today’s session, Bilawal expressed his displeasure with the voting process. “It is our right for them [amendments] to be heard, not for them to be rejected in one word by an unelected member.”
When a voice vote is contested, he says, parliamentary procedures dictate that a new voice vote be held. “If that is also challenged, then it is your duty to count the votes,” Bilawal said, addressing National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser.
He stated that throughout the last stages of the approval procedure, members of the National Assembly had no idea what they were voting for. He said that this harmed the budget’s “legitimacy,” and that the opposition was making the process extremely seriously.
“Is it not rigging if we can’t record our vote during the budget debate or during the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) debate. Is this not against the rules,” he questioned.
In response to Bilawal’s accusations of breaking parliamentary precedent, the foreign minister slammed the PPP chairman.
“What are you talking about? In Sindh, where you have the government, you did not allow the opposition leader to speak,” he said.