• Qureshi tears into opposition for not allowing NA debate on Senate polls bill

    Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi File Photo Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi

    Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi strongly criticised the opposition in Thursday's sitting of the National Assembly for not allowing discussion on the 26th constitutional amendment bill seeking open balloting in the Senate elections to progress forward.

    The government had presented the bill in the lower house yesterday amidst a ruckus created by the opposition which termed the tabling of the bill a show of the government's "mala fide intent". The bill has been tabled at a time when Senate elections are only weeks away and the Supreme Court is hearing a presidential reference seeking open vote for the upper house in order to prevent horse-trading and trade of votes during the Senate polls.

    Today's sitting of the National Assembly session was again rife with shouting and sloganeering with opposition not allowing the lower house to follow its plan for the day, briefly staging a walkout as well.

    Several opposition lawmakers were also carrying placards with "chor" (thief) written on them while some had slogans urging the speaker to allow opposition lawmakers to speak.

    Qureshi, during his speech which was marred by loud sloganeering and desk thumping by opposition members, bashed the opposing parties for "defiling the sanctity of the Parliament". He condemned the opposition's behaviour and warned that the government has shown "a lot of patience and respect" but "if you think we will let you bulldoze it (the bill), that will not happen".

    He admonished opposition members for being "two-faced" and stated that "this house cannot function" if their behaviour and refusal to listen to the government continued.

    "If they don't want to listen then a one-sided debate cannot take place."

    Opposition used to 'selling conscience'

    Addressing the bill, the foreign minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had "promised the introduction of reforms" and the government wanted to "move forward with transparent reforms", adding this was the reason the government had a moved a bill for amendments in Articles 59, 63 and 226 of the Constitution.

    Qureshi said the bill was brought to uncover the motives of candidates who came to the Senate on the back of "horse trading" and had no "vision or support from any political party" and to root out and "defeat corrupt practices".

    He questioned how can members of the Senate who "can be bought and sold" be relied upon to defend the nation's interests.

    The minister admitted the government didn't have the two-third majority it needed but despite that it moved the bill because the "flagbearers of the Charter of Democracy" have been asking for free and fair elections.

    "People can see the difference in their statements and actions," the PTI leader said, pointing at the opposition benches where members were chanting against the government.

    Referring to the PPP, he said he has "heard that they want to bring a former prime minister in Senate". He added that the PPP has "also decided they want to make someone Senate chairman".

    Qureshi stated that since PPP did not have a majority in Punjab, the only way they could try achieve their goal was through horse-trading.

    The foreign minister reaffirmed that the bill was not being brought out of political convenience to manufacture a "result [in the Senate polls] of our liking" and was in line with the PTI's stance of "transparent politics".

    He pointed out how the PTI had taken action against its members "who sold their conscience" after the results of the 2018 Senate elections and hailed it as a "first in Pakistan's and [this] Parliament's history".

    The foreign minister asked why the opposition parties, who insisted on the introduction of election reforms to ensure free and fair elections and agreed that "there should be open balloting", had moved away from their stance today.

    "The nation can now see how they've changed colours like a chameleon," he declared. "They don't want [this bill to pass] because they are used to buying and selling [their] conscience."

    Qureshi alleged that the opposition wanted to uphold "corrupt practices" and "fill up their treasury boxes".

    "People can see that the opposition is in a pinch, history will witness that they are still part of corrupt practices, we are trying to build a wall in front of corrupt practices but they are still trying to stop that.

    "Today the nation has to decide, the elected representatives of the people have to decide if they want to stand by the group of thieves."

    'Millionaires club'

    Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry also assailed the opposition for its stance against the proposed amendment, saying "PPP and PML-N don't want this bill to pass because they want to keep the Senate a millionaires club".

    He pointed out that the aforementioned parties had still not taken action against their members who had voted in support of Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in the no-confidence motion against him in August 2019, despite saying that they would.

    "How will they take action against MNAs and senators when [the] PPP [and] PML-N leadership knows that they themselves are bought and sold every day?" he said, adding that the opposition's resistance to the bill shows that it "can't take a stand against lota-cracy".

    The minister further went on to say that the PPP had "went against" Benazir Bhutto because the Charter of Democracy, which was signed by the slain leader, stated that Senate elections should be transparent.

    Chaudhry also accused PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif of starting the "Changa Manga politics" — a reference to a Punjab forest often cited as a place for lodging political turncoats.

    The minister further said that the PML-N had taken $10 million from Osama bin Laden to move a no-confidence motion against former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

    "They even ate up that money," Chaudhry added.

    Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar also echoed Qureshi and Chaudhry's sentiments about the reasons for bringing the bill. He said the people of Pakistan and the people sitting in Parliament had admitted that senators who come through horse trading are a "stain on Pakistan's democracy".

    The session was later prorogued.