ISLAMABAD: The PML-N seems to nurture a certain anathema towards Parliament.
Given a choice, none of them would like to come to the Assembly.
Tuesday was yet another day when there were hardly enough members to carry the session. We can’t tell whether this is because of the PML-N’s non-democratic moorings or the nonchalant attitude of its members. After all, most of the PML-N stalwarts are the product of the 1985 Assembly that got elected on a non-party basis. They simply love to flaunt the perks (tashan) that come with Parliament, particularly their title “MNA” embossed in green that lets them pass through every picket without checking. Legislation is the last thing they want to do.
One can’t blame the PTI for calling the Assembly a rubber stamp. The PML-N ensures that it proves Imran Khan right by not coming to Parliament at all. The ruling party gives importance to Parliament only when it is in crisis. The moment things turn bad for the PML-N all their big guns turn up to sermon about the supremacy of Parliament. And they thin out the moment the crisis dissipates.
It is funny this time because the PML-N heavyweights have stopped coming to the National Assembly while the crisis is still on. Or so we understand. The entire row of senior ministers was vacant. The only other time the senior ministers visit the Assembly is when the prime minister cares to visit it. Since he was off to London there was no reason to waste time in Parliament.
We are told that the prime minister took strict notice of the ministers who are habitually absent. Nawaz Sharif definitely needs to do more if this is the state of affairs despite his instructions.
Either Nawaz Sharif has no power over his ministers or they are up to something more devious. What will it take to make the senior ministers attend Parliament, we asked information minister Pervaiz Rasheed in his chambers? He is one of the very few amongst the senior ministers who justify their daily allowance by attending Parliament regularly.
He agreed that the gravitation centre of political activity needs to be brought back to Parliament but was a little reticent in saying anything against his senior colleagues, especially the powerful trio that controls interior, finance and energy.
“How about making Chaudhary Nisar or Ishaq Dar the whip (who ensures attendance in the Assembly),” we cornered Pervaiz for an answer. He agreed Nisar would make a good whip to rally around members. After all, this was his favourite theme when he was leader of the opposition in the previous assembly. It would make sense to make somebody from the trio the chief whip, with others as deputies, as they happen to be the biggest violators. We are not sure whether Nisar would consider this as an elevation or a demotion. All we know is that the senior ministers got emboldened when they learned that Nawaz Sharif has postponed the move to change the portfolios of his senior ministers. Perhaps it was not a good timing to create rifts in the PML-N ranks.
This does not mean that Sheikh Aftab is a bad whip. In fact, he happens to be the most efficient PML-N minister who covers up for half of the Cabinet. But he does not have the aura of a powerful minister. He does not command the same power that, for instance, Khursheed Shah enjoyed in the PPP as the chief whip. Whatever the case, Nawaz Sharif needs to do something to enforce his writ first in his Cabinet before he attempts that in the rest of the country. Not that the government is short of issues.
We expected the government to at least brief us what measures have been taken to bring the prices down in accordance with the falling international oil prices. The PML government has struck gold in the shape of tumbling oil prices, which have come down from $110 per barrel to $70 in the last six months. Ishaq Dar does not need to do anything to meet budgetary, plus the IMF, targets. This means roughly 33 per cent decrease in oil prices whereas the government has lessened local petrol prices by roughly 20 per cent.
We expected Dar to educate us if there was any further decrease. More important, where are the government measures to bring down the prices of oil-related products? How about pressuring transporters to lower rates? How about a decrease in electricity rates once the subsidy is adjusted? Are there any plans to hedge oil reserves at some stage? The whole world is going through a tailspin because of the lowest oil rates in four years. There is much bigger game being played among world powers to squeeze Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The tremors have increased after Russia’s speculation that it could go down further to $60 a barrel. Even India is fast adjusting by opening gold imports.
But there was nobody from either the finance, foreign and energy ministries to enlighten us on its implications for Pakistan.
Neither was there any one to inform us about the latest government strategy to deal with Imran Khan. Nawaz Sharif flew away to London after tasking Dar with restarting the dialogue. It was not clear who would talk to whom, when and where. Shafqat Mahmood confirmed on the sidelines that there was no urgency in the PML-N ranks for the talks. Late at night there was some movement that a dialogue may start on December 6 and the Faisalabad shut down may be deferred, for now at least.
For all we know is that if the patch-up was not reached there was a possibility of a major showdown in Faisalabad. It seemed elements in the PML-N wanted to test the PTI in Faisalabad. Pervaiz Rasheed said they were trying to control the likes of Rana Sanaullah, Abid Lion Ali and Haji Mannan not to vitiate the environment. Surely, it is a dangerous game that they are playing.
December 3, 2014