ISLAMABAD: The PML-N took a lonesome path on Thursday in boycotting the National Assembly session a day before it is due to end to protest against a pro-job bill passed overnight, in a move that earned the largest opposition party ire of all other groups which supported the government.
The bill, aimed to reinstate some 9,000 government and state corporation employees removed during the second Pakistan Muslim League-N government of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s, was passed without any objections when some PML-N members were present in a sparsely attended sitting late on Wednesday evening.
But Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was not present in the house when the Sacked Employees (Reinstatement) Bill was taken up after being on the agenda since the last session in early September, accused the government on Thursday of going back on an “understanding with us” to defer and review “the most controversial bill” that he said would bring an additional burden of Rs15-17 billion on the national exchequer, before leading his party members out of the house.
This was the fourth opposition walkout from the house in as many days, but the first in which 90-member PML-N seemed isolated in the 342-seat house and subjected to public ridicule from opposition benches, besides a strong defence of the bill both from the government and other opposition groups.
The house, which began its current session on Sept 20, was scheduled to be prorogued on Friday, but the government seemed agreeable to extend it for a week on a suggestion from the opposition leader that some pending opposition motions such as for debates on the situation in Indian-held Kashmir and Nato strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas be disposed of first.
But Tursday’s boycott, which Chaudhry Nisar said would be for the whole of the remaining session, meant his party was no longer interested in an extension of the session.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and PPP chief whip and Labour and Manpower Minister Khurshid Ahmad Shah both rejected PML-N’s reservations about the reinstatement bill amid praise for the 21-clause draft from the second largest opposition party, PML-Q, government-allied parties and independents and said the measure was part of the PPP manifesto to provide jobs to people and one that was endorsed by the cabinet at the advent of the present government when PML-N was part of it with its leading Senator Ishaq Dar as finance minister.
Mr Gilani said these reinstatements were part of his own manifesto as well that he got approved by his cabinet soon after his induction as prime minister in March 2008, and called the process “a noble cause” his government would continue to pursue.
“It is our mission to provide employment (to people) and will continue doing it,” he said.
Mr Khurshid Shah acknowledged that the government side had been discussing the PML-N concerns with the party’s house member and legal expert Zahid Hamid along with PPP senator and prime minister’s adviser on inter-provincial coordination Raza Rabbani, but pointed out that the PML-N had not proposed any amendments, which he said the government would have probably accepted in line with its past practice as reflected in the acceptance of two amendments of another PML-N member in another bill passed on Wednesday.
But Mr Hamid, who had stayed back in the house apparently to respond to the labour minister’s reply that Chaudhry Nisar had preferred not to hear before the walkout, said his party’s objections were “conceptual” rather than seeking amendments to particular sections because he alleged the bill — which he saw as “the last straw that beaks the camel’s back” — violated five articles of the Constitution, the government’s rules of business and fundamental principles of independence of judiciary, and was meant to favour a “distinct category” of people.
The labour minister, who regretted that Mr Hamid also left the house without hearing him as done by Chaudhry Nisar, wondered whether the PML-N had “not forgotten the past” when its government sacked people perceived to be PPP supporters despite a contrary course pledged in the 2006 Charter of Democracy signed by the two parties and said the present government took no such action against some 33,000 people employed by the previous PML-N government.
He was sorry the relief of the present bill was not available to some 3,000 sacked employees of the United Bank Limited because of a Supreme Court ruling.
PML-Q’s Dr Donya Aziz was the first from opposition benches to denounce what she called the attitude of “saying one thing when you are in the government and another when your in opposition” as she recalled the presence of a PML-N finance minister in the cabinet when the prime minister announced the reinstatement plan.
Her party colleague Waqas Akram Sheikh said that despite his many differences with the government, he regarded the reinstatement bill as “its best action” that would earn it prayers of the poor.
Endorsement of the bill came also from several other PML-Q members, including party chief whip Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Riaz Fatiana and Sardar Bahadur Khan Sihar from Punjab province and Shahzada Mohiuddin from Chitral, MQM’s Iqbal Ahmed Khan, JUI senator and Housing Minister Rehmatullah Khan Kakar, independent Usman Khan Tarakai from Khyber Pkhtunkhwa and Mohammad Usman Advocate from Balochistan, Maulana Malik Wazir from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and some PPP members before the house was adjourned until 10am on Friday.