Passage of Finance Bill and opposition’s future options
The ruling coalition’s majority in the National Assembly was established on Monday when the house passed the Finance Bill 2020-21 with a voice vote after debates and amendments. The government defeated the opposition with 160-119 votes at the time of passage of Clause nine of the Bill, after which it did not insist for a vote at the final passage as it had already been defeated during clause-by-clause vote.
Now the president (who is a PTI leader) will sign the bill and it will become effective from July 1.
This is just a formality.
The ruling party’s success is much greater than it would have been in normal circumstances.
Only a day before (on Sunday) the opposition parties had rejected the new budget and announced in very categorical terms that they would use all constitutional means to oust the PTI government because of its comprehensive failure on all fronts.
Shortly after the joint news conference of opposition leaders, including PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto and PML-N leader Khwaja Muhammad Asif, at which the ‘oust government’ announcement was made, the PTI leaders started contacting the estranged coalition partners to invite them to a dinner the prime minister was hosting.
The dinner was an opportunity to assess the likely turnout at the Monday session of the lower house of parliament – and thus the fate of the budget.
It was because of the desperate contacts that JWP chief Shahzain Bugti turned up at the dinner despite his earlier indications of parting ways with the PTI.
The MQM leaders also met the premier and assured him their support.
The PML-Q leaders said they would support the budget but stay away from the dinner “because of other engagements”, as quoted by a party spokesman.
The BNP has already parted ways with the PTI and joined the opposition camp. The party has four MNAs.
The prime minister told the dinner participants that he was the only choice for the powers-that-be and his government would stay on. He even claimed that not only would his government complete the existing mandated term of five years but would also be there for another term.
This was, however, a claim the like of which all political leaders make even in the worse situations.
Monday’s proceedings of the National Assembly were a test of those claims.
Had the PTI failed to get the Finance Bill approved, it would have meant it has lost the majority’s support and has no right to stay in power any more.
This is also one of the constitutional means of ousting a sitting government. By keeping the pro-PTI elements away from the exercise the opposition could block the approval of the budget – or the Finance Bill.
But now that the government has sailed through, the opposition would not be in a position in the immediate future to oust the prime minister through a no-trust motion, which is another constitutional way to getting rid of a prime minister.
In other words, as of today two constitutional methods of removing the prime minister – blocking of the budget and a moving no-trust motion – have become ineffective.
Now the opposition parties can pin their hopes on a negative verdict from courts against the prime minister. Cases are pending but no one knows how long would the courts take to decide them or whether the decision would go against the prime minister
It may be recalled that Mian Nawaz Sharif had been disqualified as prime minister by a court.
Now, bringing people out on the streets and mounting pressure on the government is the only option left with the opposition.
They are planning to hold an all-party conference where the future strategy would come under discussion.
There were indications that the APC would be held in a few days. But now PPP Chairman Bilawal has linked it to the recovery of PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif from the Covid-19.
Whatever ultimate decision to be taken by the opposition parties, they must bear in mind that destablisation of the government at this juncture is not in the country’s interest. The problems facing the country are so serious that they are beyond the capacity of any single party. All parties must join hands to steer the country out of the multiple crises.
They should also not forget that instability forces a government to deal first with the existential threats, ignoring all other problems.
An instable government cannot spare time for thinking about the situation the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir are facing at the hands of fascist BJP government.
Both the ruling party and the opposition parties should give a serious consideration to the idea of forming a national government, forgetting the bitterness of the past.