Pakistan: Federal budget debate to be telecast live

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ISLAMABAD: For the first time in the country’s history, ordinary citizens will be able to watch the entirety of the debate about the federal budget live, thanks to the government caving in to the opposition’s demand that their speeches be broadcast on national television.

The sequence of events that led to this unprecedented move started with Senate Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan, who threatened not to let the government open the debate on the 2016 budget, unless the speeches of all members of parliament were broadcast on television. He was quickly joined in this call for a boycott by National Assembly Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah. Both legislators are from the Pakistan Peoples Party.


“We, the opposition in both houses, have decided not to open debate unless speeches of all parliamentary leaders are aired live,” Ahsan said. “Speeches of opposition leaders were aired live when it suited the government,” he added, a reference to the joint session of parliament during Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan’s long marches in August 2014. “If the government’s speeches can be aired live, then the same treatment should be given to the opposition.”

Meanwhile, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, also of the PPP, took exception to the fact that the government was holding talks with leaders in the NA and ignoring the upper house of parliament. “Both houses of parliament are equal, but the government is not consulting the Senate,” he said. Rabbani suspended proceedings in the Senate in protest and tried to contact government officials, but was unable to reach them.

It was at that point that Aitzaz Ahsan threatened the boycott. Rabbani played the role of good cop by saying that the Senate only had 14 days to deliver its recommendations to the National Assembly, but Aitzaz remained firm on his demands until the government gave in.

The opposition then upped the ante. In the National Assembly, the session was marred by protests from the opposition and Khursheed Shah said that if the government does not give in to their demands, they would devise a strategy to continue the protest. The lower house of parliament was adjourned for the day without any debate on the budget after the opposition walked out. After some back-door negotiations, Information Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid, who faced tough questions in the upper house, announced in the National Assembly that speeches of opposition leaders would be aired live on television from Tuesday.

The Senate session, meanwhile, concerned itself not with the budget but with a discussion of the alleged genocide against the Rohingyas, a Muslim community in Myanmar. The upper house decided to pass a resolution to be delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Senator Mohsin Khan Leghari started proceedings by trying to draw the attention of Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, to the Rohingyas. During the debate PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq discussed the history of the issue, PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan made an emotional speech in his distinct style of embellishing arguments in poetry, while Aitzaz Ahsan was visibly cynical about the role of the Muslim Ummah.

SOURCE: The Express Tribune, June 9, 2015,