National Assembly Speaker Pervez Ashraf showed he is a political operative more concerned with immediate partisan interests than to maintain the neutrality of his office, when he accepted 35 more PTI members’ resignations on Thursday. His acceptance, earlier in the week of 35 other resignations was apparently not enough to fulfill the PDM’s need for a riposte to the PTI’s dissolution of the Punjab and KP Assemblies, and now he PTI parliamentary party which will return to the National Assembly, if it ever does so, will be only 43 strong, a far cry from the 123 who tendered their resignations on April 11 last year. After so many months of loudly proclaiming that he would only accept the resignations if the members individually testified to him that there was no duress involved, and standing firm even when visited by a PTI delegation calling on him to accept all submitted resignations, he suddenly caved, even though n personal appearance had been made.
One explanation doing the rounds is that resignations have been accepted where MNAs had said they had done so on TV. Another is that he carefully followed partisan interests: he accepted the first batch of 10 seats where the PDM thought it had a chance in the by-election (only PTI chief Imran Khan won seven), and now he was accepting large numbers to reduce the membership of the House, and thus make it possible for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to obtain a vote of confidence even if some f the allies were to leave the coalition.
Speaker Ashraf is a loyal PPP veteran who has been rewarded with not just the Speakership, but earlier with the Prime Ministership. However, he should not let party loyalty blind him to the fact that he is acting as his predecessor did, and compromising the neutrality of his office for partisan purposes. He is supposed to be a custodian of the whole House, including Opposition members. The presiding officer is elected by secret ballot for precisely this reason: that he must not know if the member rising before him to speak, or whose production order might be before him, voted for or against him. He is not supposed to make decisions on the basis of partisan need or convenience, as seems to be the case now.