Old Members, New Slogans: 16th National Assembly Commences Amid Ruckus

At least 302 members take oath as the assembly prepares for elections of speaker, deputy speaker and then prime minister

Old Members, New Slogans: 16th National Assembly Commences Amid Ruckus

Heavy sloganeering from both sides of the aisle reverberated as the 16th National Assembly of Pakistan formally commenced on Thursday. As many as 302 members, out of 336, took their oath.

As proceedings began on Thursday morning, charged lawmakers from the opposition streamed into the house carrying placards inscribed with the slogan 'Release Imran Khan', referring to the continued incarceration of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan, who is in jail, serving multiple sentences on corruption convictions.

Some independent candidates, whom the PTI had backed during the elections, were seen wearing masks with pictures of the former prime minister. These MPs also sported scarves which carried the colours of the PTI flag to denote their true political affiliation.

Those members who sat on the treasury benches responded to the sloganeering from the opposition benches by shouting slogans in favour of their parties as their party supremos, including Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) Nawaz Sharif, entered the assembly hall. This resulted in a slogan match.

The house reverberated with competing slogans of 'Ayi, ayi PTI', 'Imran khan zindabad' from the opposition benches and 'Aik Zardari, sab par bhari' by the PPP and 'Sher aya, Sher aya' by members of the PML-N.

As the volume of the sloganeering climbed, Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was forced to intervene and call for the members to calm down. However, his repeated warnings and requests failed to have the desired impact.

"At least, all of you should first formally become members of the house by taking the oath," Ashraf implored, urging the members-elect, "Don't spoil decorum, please."

Soon, the guests sitting in the visitor's galleries had joined the sloganeering, and the sergeant-at-arms had difficulty controlling them. 

Finally, Ashraf managed to administer the oath of assembly to all the elected members present in the house. Subsequently, the members formally signed the parliamentary rolls one by one to complete the enlistment process.

Interestingly, after signing the electoral rolls, most lawmakers from the PTI chanted slogans in favour of the PTI.

Someone from the opposition benches threw a mask with a picture of Imran Khan in the air as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif signed the rolls.

Induction of new members

Several notable politicians made a return to the parliament on Thursday, including PML-N supremo and former premier Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, former president Asif Ali Zardari, former foreign minister and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

The house also saw many young and fresh faces take the oath of Parliament on Thursday.

At least 34 members did not take the oath. These included members of reserved seats for women and minorities, which were due to be allotted to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC). Since 92 candidates who had won as independents had later opted to join the SIC — bolstering its numbers to become the largest party in the assembly, the SIC and its ally, the PTI, have been demanding the allotment of reserved seats according to their strength. 

However, the Election Commission of Pakistan has maintained that reserved seats can only be allotted to parties directly elected to parliament.

A case on this is pending before the ECP, and a decision has yet to be announced. 

The conflict over the reserved seats had perturbed President Arif Alvi, who twice returned summaries sent by the caretaker prime minister to summon a session of the National Assembly for February 29. Alvi finally issued a summons for the session early on Thursday, but not before the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs had issued a notification for the session, citing Article 91(2).

Election of speaker and PM

Elections for the National Assembly speaker and his deputy are scheduled for Friday. They will be held before noon. The pair will take the oath of their offices the same day. 

On the third day of the current session, parliamentarians will elect a leader of the house or the prime minister.

Shehbaz Sharif is the joint candidate of the PML-N and PPP for the prime minister's slot. His opponent is expected to be the PTI-backed Omer Ayub.

Ayaz Sadiq will contest elections for the post of National Assembly speaker against the PTI-backed Amir Dogar.

PPP lawmaker Ghulam Mustafa Shah will vie for the slot of deputy speaker as the joint candidate of the PML-N and the PPP.

KP Assembly elects speaker, deputy speaker

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sunni Ittehad Council's (SIC) Babar Saleem Swati and elected representative from Chitral, Suraiya Bibi won the elections.

Of the 106 votes cast, Swati secured 89 votes while his opponent Ahsanullah Miankhel secured 17 votes.

PTI's Iqbal Wazir reportedly did not cast his vote.

For the deputy speaker election, Suraiya Bibi won the election after securing 87 votes. Her opponent, PTI-Parliamentarian's Arbab Waseem got 19 votes. 

Later, they were administered the oath of office by outgoing speaker Mushtaq Ghani.

Balochistan Assembly elects speaker, deputy speaker

In Balochistan, the speaker and deputy speaker of the provincial assembly were elected on Thursday.

PML-N candidate Abdul Khaliq Achackzai was elected unopposed. 

It was a similar story for deputy speaker where PPP's candidate Ghazala Golah was elected unopposed.

Balochistan Assembly secretary Tahir Shah Kakar announced the results.