Minister says PM busy with coronavirus response as opposition decries his absence from parliament

This file photo shows Pakistan premier Imran Khan during the joint session of the Parliament in Islamabad on Aug. 6, 2019. (Photo courtesy: National Assembly of Pakistan)
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Updated 15 May 2020

Minister says PM busy with coronavirus response as opposition decries his absence from parliament

  • Information minister says the PM is already leading the fight against the virus
  • Experts believe the prime minister’s absence can weaken democratic norms in the country

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz downplayed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s absence from parliamentary sessions to develop a national strategy against the coronavirus pandemic while talking to Arab News on Thursday, criticizing the opposition parties instead.
“What will be the benefit of attending the session and leaving all the important meetings when there will only be noise, allegations and political point scoring instead of an effort to provide serious suggestions and solutions to the problem,” he asked.
Faraz noted that the parliamentary sessions were convened on the request of the opposition, yet its top leader decided to stay away from the proceedings.
“One should first ask him [Shehbaz Sharif] as to why he has not attended the session that was requisitioned on his call,” the minister said, dismissing the opposition’s criticism that the government was not serious in discussing the COVID-19 pandemic at the topmost democratic forum of the country.
The opposition has raised the issue of prime minister’s long absence from parliament, pointing to the fact that Khan himself had promised in his first speech at the National Assembly to regularly attend its sittings and respond to the questions of its members on the pattern of the UK’s House of Commons.
However, the attendance record shows that the prime minister only attended 12 sittings after assuming the country’s top political office in August 2018.
“The prime minister will decide if he wants to attend the session depending on his engagements as he is leading the national fight against COVID-19,” Faraz said. “He [the PM] is leading our response to the pandemic and giving instructions on a daily basis.”
The opposition has accused the prime minister of shirking his constitutional responsibility by not attending the parliamentary sessions, saying that the proceedings were requisitioned to unite the nation in a critical time.
“The prime minister is constitutionally bound to take the parliament into confidence over issues of national importance, but unfortunately this is not happening despite our repeated protests,” Naveed Qamar, senior lawmaker of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), told Arab News.
He said the National Assembly and Senate sessions were convened to discuss “a national emergency” and develop a consensus strategy to deal with the pandemic, but the government had lost the opportunity.
“This attitude of the prime minister is actually weakening democracy in the country,” Qamar said.
Raja Zafarul Haq, chairman Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and opposition leader in the Senate, said the prime minister was not engaging with the opposition which was contributing to ineffective policies on important issues.
“How can we develop a national strategy against the coronavirus and other issues of public interest if the prime minister is not even willing to talk to the opposition members,” Haq wondered.
He said he was attending all Senate sessions while Shehbaz Sharif was barred by his doctors to be the National Assembly. “It’s a lame excuse that prime minister wasn’t attending the session since Shehbaz Sharif was absent,” he added.
Experts and analysts said the prime minister was not bound to attend a session under the rules, though they added that the importance of his presence in parliament could not be denied.
“If a prime minister does not attend parliament’s proceedings, then obviously his cabinet members won’t take them seriously too,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), told Arab News.
He said this would ultimately lead to a situation where the legislature would lose its credibility among the public and the standard of debate in parliament would further erode.
“The government is accountable to the public and this can best be achieved if the premier attends parliamentary sessions and answers questions of the members,” Mehboob added.


Pakistani army chief, Saudi ambassador discuss regional security 

Updated 10 August 2020

Pakistani army chief, Saudi ambassador discuss regional security 

  • Saudi ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf Saeed Al-Malkiy calls on General Qamar Javed Bajwa
  • The two leaders discuss matters of mutual interest, bilateral defense relations 

ISLAMABAD: Nawaf Saeed Al-Malkiy, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, called on Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Monday and discussed the security situation in the region, the military’s media wing said. 
“Matters of mutual interest, regional security situation and bilateral defense relations between the two brotherly countries were discussed during the meeting,” the Pakistani army said in a statement.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are longtime allies. Saudi Arabia remains the main source of Pakistan’s remittances despite global business shutdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic. The country has also loaned Pakistan billions of dollars in recent months to help stave off a balance of payments crisis, and offered oil on deferred payments.