PML-N told to forget martial law, mid-term polls: Gilani fires broadside at opposition
By Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD: Nothing doing: it was how Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani responded in the National Assembly on Tuesday to some of what he saw as insincere talk from the opposition PML-N for mid-term elections to remove the PPP-led government.
And the soft-spoken prime minister turned unusually tough to remind the so-called ‘friendly opposition’ party now seen as browbeaters that it was he, not they, who could exercise the option of mid-term polls in a parliamentary system and declared he would not do so, though he said he was willing to discuss with them governance improvement and a 25-year “charter of Pakistan” for the country’s development proposed by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif.
Mr Gilani was reacting to a statement made to reporters by Leader of Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N on Monday that he was hearing “voices coming from streets” to get rid of the 2-1/2 years’ old government for which mid-term elections could be an option and a call in the house on Tuesday by a lower-ranking party member, Mohammad Hanif Abbasi, that this must happen next year.
The aggressive tone of Mr Gilani, the five-year term of whose government must last until March 2013, set off speculation whether it was out of anger at the outbursts of the two PML-N members although he has enjoyed a cordial ties with the main opposition party’s top leadership, or a reflection of new colours that could spread on the country’s political landscape this autumn following PPP’s new contacts for cooperation with the PML-Q, the second largest opposition party in parliament.
He said mid-term elections could be held only if he exercised his constitutional power to dissolve the National Assembly – a previously presidential power given him by the 18th Amendment – or if an unconstitutional martial law was imposed.
“I will not dissolve the assembly,” he said amid cheers from the coalition benches and told those demanding the opposite course – who he said were “not sincere to the country” – not to have “any misunderstanding” that the present “patriotic and pro-democracy military” would impose martial law.
Stressing that the present assembly represented the mandate of the entire country, he said: “It is our duty to protect this house. We cannot fulfil anybody’s (contrary) wish.”
The prime minister also asked the “advocates of mid-term elections”, without naming the PML-N, to keep in mind the results of recent by-elections, in which it lost some seats it had won in the February 2008 general election, and said they better hold local government elections to see what happens.
Earlier, the proceedings of the second sitting of the assembly’s autumn session on a private members’ day were marked by outcries from both sides of the house against high increases in the prices of petroleum products announced by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority on Sunday as well as the general price hike, including a token walkout by the members of the government-allied Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
Minister of State for Finance and Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar said gradual price increases, like the support price of wheat, were necessary to increase production and save consumers from an accumulated higher increase and cited the government’s flagship Benazir Income Support Programme as a model of its care for the poor.
The prime minister was seen talking to PPP’s Nawab Yousuf Talpur after the member from Sindh had protested in his presence against Mr Gilani’s reported remarks in a speech in Gujrat last week calling the nationalisation of private educational institutions in the 1970s by the first PPP government of then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as a mistake.
But Mr Gilani did not refer to an earlier complaint made before his arrival in the house by his former information minister Sherry Rehman against a recent demonstration outside her house in Karachi reportedly by PPP workers to protest against her alleged violation of a party directive for a boycott of talk shows of a private television channel accused of anti-government bias.
Ms Rehman said although she did not move a privilege motion in the house, she expected the government to condemn what she called a “shocking” incident or “I will think it has been condoned”.
Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi asked Food and Agriculture Minister Nazar Mohammad Gondal, the only PPP minister seen in the house at the time, to take notice of Ms Rehman’s complaint.
Some members on the treasury benches also lauded the election of renowned human rights activist Asma Jahangir as the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.