National Assembly in session to vote out Imran

— Qureshi says will fight the no-confidence vote till the last ball

— Umar says half a million jobs were created between 2018-2022

ISLAMABAD: A crucial session of the National Assembly to vote on whether to remove Imran Khan as prime minister, days after he blocked a similar attempt, is currently underway in Islamabad.

The session is being chaired by Speaker Asad Qaiser in accordance with the directives of the Supreme Court. In between, Amjad Khan Niazi briefly presided over the session.

The meeting of the Lower House began at 10:30 am sharp with the recitation of the Quran which was followed by the national anthem and prayer for a deceased parliamentarian.

A unified opposition that stretches the political spectrum from left to radically religious says it has the 172 votes it needs in the 342-seat Lower House to oust Khan.

Before the adjournment, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, expected to become prime minister if Imran Khan is ousted, addressed the assembly, urging Qaiser to ensure the vote was carried out as a matter of priority.

Taking the floor after Sharif, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi demanded an investigation into ruling party allegations that the no-confidence vote was a ploy by the opposition and America to unseat Khan.

He said the opposition had the right to table the motion against the prime minister, but added that defending it was his obligation. “We intend to fight it in a constitutional, political and democratic manner,” he asserted.

He said that it was obligatory for us to respect the Constitution.

“Pakistan’s history is full of constitutional violations,” he said, adding the doctrine of necessity should have been buried earlier. “I am happy that Pakistan’s democracy has evolved and that we all are not ready to take its support,” he added.

“Today is Saturday and the session has started at 10:30 am. The court said the session will not be prorogued unless the process of Article 95 and rule 37 is concluded,” he said.

However, it is important to present the context under which the court directed to summon the session again. He said that the clock was turned back and the apex court unanimously dismissed the April 3 ruling.

The minister said that the prime minister went to the people by dissolving the assembly, adding that the opposition had been calling for early polls for close to four years.

He reiterated that the government had accepted the court’s decision but questioned why the opposition parties went to the court and why the SC took suo motu notice.

“The ruling the deputy speaker gave when he was chairing the session and he did not reject the constitutional process. He said a new situation had surfaced and that it should be probed in its light.”

Qureshi added the National Security Committee (NSC), the country’s top security forum, saw the cable and concluded it was a sensitive matter.

“The NSC took two decisions. First, they acknowledged there was interference in Pakistan’s internal matters and that a demarche must be issued,” he said, adding the Foreign Office then followed the directive.

“The second was to immediately summon the Parliamentary committee on National Security and for the matter to be presented before elected representatives so that they can get to the bottom of things.”

Resuming the debate after the break, Qureshi said the government intended to tackle the resolution of no-confidence in a constitutional, political and democratic way.

He put on the record that the PTI government never intended to violate the constitution. “Respecting the Constitution is binding on all of us.”

The minister said the government had accepted the verdict of the Supreme Court in a suo moto case on the April 3 ruling of Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri.

Qureshi also informed the House about an international conspiracy to change the democratically elected government and a “threat letter” discussed in the National Security Committee meeting.

He said the government also wanted to hold an in-camera session of the Parliamentary Committee on national security for a briefing on the letter.

The minister said it was unfortunate that with the support of the foreign powers, the majority of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the House of the Parliament was being converted into a minority.

Qureshi expressed the confidence that history would expose the elements that hatched the conspiracy against the democratically elected government.

He said it was the right time for the nation to decide whether they wanted to live with dignity and pride or otherwise. The minister also informed the parliamentarians that the prime minister had undertaken the bilateral visit to Russia in consultation with all stakeholders.

Pakistan always believed in the true implementation of international laws and the United Nations charter, he added.

He said Khan time and again said that Pakistan would be a partner in the peace not in the conflict.

The minister said all Pakistani nationals and students stranded in Ukraine had been brought back under a safe and successful evacuation operation. He also informed the House about the efforts being made by Pakistan on the diplomatic front to solve the Russia-Ukraine crisis through dialogue and diplomacy.

Qureshi also dispelled the impression created by the Opposition parties that the ‘threatening letter’ had been prepared in the Foreign Office and said, “This is an authentic letter, written by a Grade-22 senior and seasoned diplomat posted there.”

Qureshi also shared some contents of the letter with the parliamentarians that contained a clear threat that if the no-confidence motion failed, Pakistan would have to face the consequences, and if succeeded “We will pardon Pakistan.”

He said it was the fundamental principle of the PTI government’s foreign policy to had cordial ties with all the countries.

He said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was constitutionally bound to conduct free, fair and transparent elections within 90 days after the task is given to it. He said fresh elections and mandates would protect the country from any constitutional crisis. The Foreign Minister said that joint Opposition parties had nothing in common on their agenda, but to avoid corruption cases.

HALF A MILLION JOBS CREATED

Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said that about 5.5 million employment opportunities were created between 2018 and 2022 due to prudent policies of the PTI government.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) during five years government had created about 5.7 jobs, he said.

Sharing the achievements of his government on the economic front, he said Pakistan achieved the highest export target.

He said the country had achieved over 5 percent growth rate during the last two years, which was the highest in the last 15 years.

Criticising the opposition parties for becoming part of a conspiracy being hatched by foreign powers against the elected government of PTI, he said the people of Pakistan would never support the elements working against the interest of the country.

He said the government had decided to share the contents of the threatening letter with the members of the Parliament, keeping in view the supremacy of the Parliament.

He regretted that leadership of the opposition had refused to attend the meeting of the parliamentary committee on national security convened by the National Assembly speaker. The minister once again invited the opposition parties for an in-camera briefing on the “Threat Letter” to the parliament.

He said that the PTI government, under the leadership of Khan, had chosen to live with dignity and pride and not to compromise on the sovereignty of the country.

He asked the opposition to work for strengthening and supremacy of the Parliament.

SESSION ADJOURNED

Subsequently, Speaker Qaiser ended the debate without commenting on the call for an investigation before the vote and instead adjourned Parliament until 12:30 pm. Khan was not present.

The speaker also said he would implement the court order “in true letter and spirit”.

Ahead of the vote that Khan is widely expected to lose, the former cricket star vowed to “struggle” against any move to replace him, the latest twist in a crisis that has threatened political and economic stability in the nation.

Khan acted “unconstitutionally” last Sunday in blocking a no-confidence vote and dissolving parliament, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, ordering National Assembly to reconvene.

Lawmakers return to National Assembly around 10:30 am. The vote brought by opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, the front-runner to replace Khan, is the fourth point on the day’s agenda.

The prime minister who surged to power in 2018 recently lost his parliamentary majority when allies quit his coalition government. Opposition parties claim he has failed to revive an economy battered by Covid-19 or fulfil promises to make Pakistan a corruption-free, prosperous nation respected on the world stage.

The opposition and some analysts say Khan has fallen out with the military, a charge he and the military deny.

“It is very simple that whoever has a majority has a right to form a government,” said Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, a former prime minister. “If Imran Khan has a majority he can form a government or else we will.”

The prime minister, who enjoyed widespread popular support when he took office, said late on Friday he was disappointed with the court ruling but accepted it. He had called an election after dissolving parliament.

But he said he would not recognise any opposition government that replaced him.

“I will not accept an imported government,” he told the nation in a late-night address, suggesting the move to oust him was part of a foreign conspiracy and calling for peaceful protests on Sunday. “I’m ready for a struggle.”

Khan opposed the US-led intervention in Afghanistan and has developed relations with Russia since becoming prime minister. He has accused the United States of supporting a plot to oust him, without offering evidence of his claim, which Washington has dismissed.

As the turmoil continued, the rupee hit all-time lows on Thursday and foreign exchange reserves tumbled. The central bank raised its benchmark interest rate by 2.5 percentage points, the biggest hike since 1996.

If Khan loses the no-confidence vote, the opposition will put forward a candidate for prime minister.

Sharif, the younger brother of disgraced three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said after the court ruling that the opposition had nominated him to take over should Khan be ousted.

— With input from Reuters, AP

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