Frustrated over its failure to present the budget for the fiscal year 2022-23 even after two consecutive days owing to a deadlock with the Punjab Assembly speaker, the PML-N-led coalition government late on Tuesday came up with an alternative plan to hold the budget session at Aiwan-i-Iqbal on Wednesday (today) to ensure its smooth sailing.
When the Punjab Assembly proceedings could not proceed throughout Tuesday, Governor Balighur Rehman cancelled the ongoing 40th session and summoned the 41st at Aiwan-i-Iqbal at 2 pm on Wednesday. However, despite the governor’s orders, Speaker Pervaiz Elahi declared that the 40th session would continue.
It appears that for the first time, two parallel budget sessions would be held on Wednesday (today) — one at the Punjab Assembly attended by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and PML-Q, and the other at Aiwan-i-Iqbal by the ruling allies PML-N and PPP.
“The ‘session’ to be attended by the PML-N and PPP lawmakers will be presided over by Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari of the PTI, who has informally joined hands with the rulers,” a PML-N lawmaker revealed.
On Tuesday evening, Speaker Elahi resumed the day’s session and asked the ‘temporary’ provincial finance minister, Sardar Awais Leghari, to present the budget. Mr Leghari said the governor had prorogued the session and its proceedings would be illegal.
The speaker told the minister that the governor’s decision had no legal value, and he should present the budget. When Mr Leghari did not follow the instructions, Elahi adjourned the proceedings to 1pm on Wednesday.
On the other hand, citing rules, the PML-N claimed: “The governor may from time to time summon the provincial assembly to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit and prorogue the provincial assembly.”
The deadlock between the treasury and the speaker persisted for the second consecutive day on Tuesday over the latter’s demands that the provincial police chief tender an apology to him and all cases lodged against the PTI and PML-Q parliamentarians and workers be withdrawn, otherwise he would not allow the budget proceedings to begin.
Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz, who looked frustrated at the speaker’s tactics, announced he would come up with another strategy to deal with the problem. And holding a separate session appeared to be the one. “Elahi cannot create a divide between me and the people. The IGP and chief secretary have played their legal role (during the April 16 session on the election of the chief minister),” he maintained while talking to the media outside the assembly.
Provincial minister Attaullah Tarar said the budget would be presented in a session at Aiwan-i-Iqbal. “We invite Elahi sahib to the session. He has breached the privilege of the lawmakers and the people,” he said and claimed that the ongoing session had been prorogued. “The speaker’s ruling to continue the session does not hold legal value.”
After back-to-back meetings between the treasury and the opposition on Monday and Tuesday, followed by brief proceedings of the house, Speaker Elahi took a strong stance over the non-appearance of the Punjab chief secretary and the IGP and asserted that the session would continue only when both officers were present in the assembly gallery and tender formal apology.
Reportedly, the Punjab government had shown some flexibility over the withdrawal of cases against PTI lawmakers and workers, but was not ready to budge over the appearance of the IGP and the CS before the speaker and opposition MPAs in the house. “Hamza is taking directions from the top party leadership over the matter that has told him not to concede to the opposition’s demands,” a source said.
Talking to reporters on Tuesday night, Speaker Elahi termed the proposed Aiwan-i-Iqbal session illegal and unconstitutional. “I have received a privilege motion against Atta Tarar for making obscene gestures at women lawmakers that will be taken up first in Wednesday’s session. Tarar was a stranger in the house, but he illegally sat inside,” Elahi said.
Former law minister Basharat Raja of the PTI questioned how the governor could order convening of the session under the deputy speaker. “The speaker is holding the session in the Punjab Assembly, and during the ongoing proceedings the governor cannot take such an illegal action,” he maintained.
The opposition believes the parallel session will be akin to the ‘mock’ one the PML-N held a couple of months ago at a local hotel to elect Hamza as the CM.
PTI’s Aslam Iqbal said: “The budget session at Aiwan-i-Iqbal will be a repeat of the ‘session’ at a hotel to elect the CM, which will have no legal value and be challenged in the court of law.”