Opposition walks out of National Assembly, Senate over petrol price hike

ISLAMABAD: The opposition staged a walkout from both houses of parliament — the National Assembly and the Senate — in protest against the hike in prices of petroleum products by up to Rs9 per litre.

Pandemonium was witnessed in the National Assembly as the opposition members staged a protest, carried placards in their hands and chanted slogans against the government.

Leaders of the opposition parties also held a press conference after the assembly session was adjourned till Wednesday and warned the government that they would bring people to the streets if they [opposition leaders] were barred from raising their voice in parliament against “faulty economic policies of the government”.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Rana Sanaullah stunned the National Assembly when he said Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif had not resigned from the office of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman.

At the start of the session, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi criticised Shahbaz Sharif for ‘leaving’ the office of PAC chairman and said the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PML-N were supporting him [Shahbaz Sharif] for the post of PAC chairman.

Rana Sanaullah claims Shahbaz Sharif has not resigned from the office of PAC chairman

He said the opposition had earlier insisted that Mr Sharif must be made the PAC chairman despite opposition to his nomination by the government, adding that Mr Sharif had stepped down without taking into confidence other parties in the opposition, including the PPP, on his decision.

Rana Sanaullah almost took a U-turn and claimed that Mr Sharif had not so far resigned from the office of PAC chairman. “Have you received resignation of Shahbaz Sharif?” he asked Speaker Asad Qaisar.

The speaker replied in the negative and said he heard through the media that Shahbaz Sharif had left the office of PAC chairman.

Mr Sanaullah wondered how the foreign minister had come to know about Mr Sharif’s resignation. “Has he [Mr Qureshi] talked to Mr Sharif over the phone about his resignation?” he asked.

He said it had been decided at recently held meeting of the PML-N parliamentary committee that Mr Sharif should not hold the office of PAC chairman because he could not given due time to the committee owing to certain reasons. The committee made the decision and sent it to PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif for a final nod. “Shahbaz Sharif has not yet decided whether he will retain the office or leave it,” Mr Sanaullah said.

Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar said the PML-N had gone to the International Monetary Fund 16 times during its rule and now the opposition was criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government for dealing with the IMF.

Later, the opposition members staged a demonstration in the house against the recent increase in prices of petroleum products and walked out the National Assembly. They also held a press conference outside the Parliament House.

Senate walkout

The opposition also staged a walkout from the Senate after a speech by PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi who criticised the government for increasing the prices of petroleum products a day before the month of Ramazan. “In other countries prices are reduced before Christmas and Ramazan, but in Pakistan the government had made a “big increase” in petroleum prices,” he regretted.

Leader of the House Senator Shibli Faraz said the opposition had no courage to listen to the answers to the allegation it had levelled against the government and walked out.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told reporters while leaving the Parliament House that the government had compromised the country’s “economic sovereignty” by appointing a serving IMF officer as governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). “Now the IMF will decide who will be the finance minster and the governor of the State Bank.”

He said the national exchequer was empty when the PPP came to power after the Musharraf regime in 2008. “At that time we fought for the rights of our people and despite reservations by the IMF we provided 6.8 million jobs to the people, raised pensions and launched Benazir Income Support Programme for the welfare of the people,” he added.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said if the IMF would run the country it would take care of its own interest, and not that of people. “No law allows appointment of a serving IMF official as governor of State Bank,” he added.

PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said after the NA session that he thought that “the headquarters of the IMF is being shifted to Islamabad”, wondering what the people of the country would think when serving officials of the IMF were appointed SBP governor and to other key positions.

Speaking outside the Parliament House, PML-N leader Khawaja Asif said the government had made Pakistan “a colony of IMF”. “Bowing his head before the IMF, Prime Minister Imran Khan has proved himself as coward like Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq contrary to his [Mr Khan] claim that he is following in the footsteps of Tipu Sultan,” he added.

The PML-N leader said the opposition had now decided to oppose the government’s “faulty economic policies” inside and outside parliament. “We will bring people to the streets against unprecedented price hike,” he added.

Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N said faulty economic policies of the government had put the security of Pakistan on stake as the prevailing economic crunch would also affect the country’s defence budget.