After losing most contested senate seat, PM Khan to seek confidence motion from parliament

A photo released on October 13, 2019 shows Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan attending a press conference in Tehran. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 March 2021

After losing most contested senate seat, PM Khan to seek confidence motion from parliament

  • In a major blow to the government, joint opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gillani won the general seat from Islamabad
  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged PM Khan to accept defeat and resign as the opposition would seek a motion of no confidence against him

ISLAMABAD: After losing the most contested seat in senate elections on Wednesday, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan is going to seek a vote of confidence from parliament.

Election commission officials started counting the votes after 5 p.m. — the official deadline to close the polls — in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Eleven senators from Punjab have already been declared unopposed winners.

In a major blow to the government, joint opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gillani won the general seat from Islamabad, beating the government’s candidate, finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, in the hotly contested election for 37 seats in the upper house of parliament.

The government and an opposition alliance had both waged a tough competition to get their candidates Shaikh and Gilani elected respectively, to win a majority in the National Assembly.

"PM Khan will take a vote of confidence from Parliament," the ruling party said in a tweet, quoting Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

The announcement came after Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged Khan to accept defeat and resign as the opposition would seek a motion of no confidence against him.

"We will choose our timing when to use the option of no-confidence against the prime minister," Bilawal said while addressing a press conference along with Gilani after the announcement of results by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Gilani won from Islamabad by securing 169 votes against Shaikh's 164, while a PTI woman candidate Fozia Arshad defeated the opposition candidate by bagging 174 votes out of 340 polled votes in the National Assembly.

The opposition alliance of 11 major opposition parties has been holding mammoth rallies since its inception last September to seek Khan's ouster.

"He should morally resign now, but we know he neither did it before nor will do it now," Bilawal said. "We will now get Yousuf Raza Gilani elected as Chairman Senate."

Speaking on the occasion, Gilani said that the credit for his victory goes to "all the democratic forces" in the country.

"It's a victory of democracy and it’s a victory of the parliament," he said.

Reacting to the Gilani’s victory, Information and Broadcasting Minister Shibli Faraz accused the opposition of winning the seat through money politics.

"The opposition should feel ashamed for talking about the no-confidence motion," Faraz said, adding that Khan would not succumb to any pressure as people who believed in democracy were firmly standing behind him.

Analysts see Gilani's win as was tantamount to a major upset for Khan's government which now has a thin majority in the National Assembly.

"It’s a serious loss for the government of Imran Khan which has lost its majority in the house," Mohammad Malick, senior political journalist and TV anchor, told Arab News.  

“Today, the government has to worry about two things: a resurgent opposition and an ostensibly neutral establishment,” he said.

“Unless Khan regroups, makes big changes in Punjab and center, he might end up with a perpetually neutral establishment and an emboldened opposition — a combination which could prove fatal for his government.”

Voting started at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning for an election that has been marred by accusations of corrupt practices and a controversy over the method of voting.

In Pakistan, a senator serves a term of six years, barring resignation, disqualification, or other extraordinary circumstances. Half of the senators are elected at one time, and the other half three years later.

This year, 52 senators elected in 2015 are set to retire; the other 52 will retire in 2024. However, elections are being held only for 48 seats after Pakistan’s northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2018. The senate thus now comprises 100 lawmakers: 23 each from all the provinces and four from Islamabad. The remaining four senators from FATA will retire in 2024.

The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled this Monday that senate elections would continue to be held through a secret ballot as per the constitution but directed the election commission to use technology to check against corrupt practices in the polls.

The court’s 4:1 verdict came in response to a presidential reference filed in December, seeking the court’s opinion on whether voting in senate elections could be held through an open ballot.

The government of PM Khan has argued that open balloting would introduce transparency into a voting process that has long been plagued by irregularities, with national and provincial lawmakers accused of selling their votes.

Leaders of the opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), have opposed the government’s move to try to hold senate elections through an open ballot.

On Tuesday, the election commission said senate elections this year would be held as "per past practices," saying it was setting up a monitoring mechanism to identify corrupt practices in the elections.

On Tuesday night, a video surfaced showing the son of Gillani explaining to lawmakers how they can waste their vote during the election. The government has since demanded the election commission declare Gillani ineligible and has filed a reference with the commission seeking his disqualification for being involved in “corrupt practices.”
 


Billions in losses as Pakistani traders on strike in solidarity with protesting religious party

Updated 10 min 35 sec ago

Billions in losses as Pakistani traders on strike in solidarity with protesting religious party

  • Cleric Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman announced countrywide strike to show solidarity with Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious political party
  • Around Rs80-90 billion worth of business generated across Pakistan daily, Rs4 billion worth of business activity suspended in Karachi alone

KARACHI: Major business centers and retail markets across Pakistan remained shut on Monday following a strike call by the leaders of various religious and political parties to show solidarity with a recently banned rightwing party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), that has been engaged in clashes with police since last Monday.
Demonstrations erupted in major Pakistani cities and quickly turned violent after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested last Monday after he threatened to launch a major campaign against the government if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) printed in a French publication.
On Sunday, cleric Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman announced a countrywide strike to show solidarity with the supporters of TLP whom he called victims of police brutality.
Following the strike call, business activity and public transportation remained suspended in Pakistan’s commercial hub of Karachi.
Kashif Chaudhry, the president of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan, a federal association of traders, said the body had taken the decision to shutdown businesses at 2am and had received “overwhelming response” from across the country.
“All major urban and rural business centers across Pakistan are closed,” Chaudhry told Arab News. “Around eighty to ninety billion rupees worth of business activity is generated across the country daily,” he added, commenting on possible losses from the closures.
Around Rs4 billion worth of business activity was suspended in Karachi alone, said Atiq Mir, the chairman of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, an umbrella organization that represents major business centers in the city. “Every day these markets generate Rs4 billion worth of businesses activities in the port city of Karachi”.
Traders in the capital city, Islamabad, also kept their businesses shut and staged protest demonstrations. Similarly, trading in Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad and Peshawar remained suspended, according to industry leaders.
The Pakistan Stock Exchange opened the day on a bearish note, with the benchmark KSE 100 index posting an intra-day low of -694 points or 1.53%.
However, ongoing negotiations between the government and protesting parties buoyed sentiment and helped the market recover from its low to close at 44,966 with a 392 points or 0.87% decline, according to a Topline Securities market review.
“Stocks closed bearish amid pressure on security unrest in the country,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. “Mid-session support witnessed in earning season on higher global crude oil prices and strong financial results in fertilizer and oil sectors.”


Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

  • Says Islamabad never evaded talks but India would have to revert disputed Kashmir region’s special autonomy
  • Tells reporters about his three-day visit: “My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan”

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday Pakistan had never evaded peace talks and wanted to live in peace with all its neighbors, including India, but New Delhi would have to reverse an August 5, 2019 move to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its special autonomy.
Kashmir has been divided but claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after the two countries’ creation in 1947. They have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.
India in 2019 stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and took direct control over it, sparking unrest. Pakistan has since maintained it is open to talks if New Delhi reverses the August 2019 decision.
The FM’s remarks, reported by Pakistani media, came as he spoke at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates where Qureshi is on three-day official visit.
“Both India and Pakistan will have to think about their bilateral ties,” the foreign minister said. “Pakistan is ready to talk with India if it takes back its steps of August 5. Pakistan cannot ignore the Kashmir issue.”
Qureshi added that Pakistan desired peace in the region because peace would create more economic opportunities.
On Sunday Qureshi ruled out any ‘secret meetings’ between Pakistan and India during his UAE visit.
The announcement that Qureshi’s Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar would also be in the UAE at the same time as the Pakistani foreign minister triggered speculation about a possible meeting. Both leaders’ arrival in the UAE comes just days after the Emirati envoy to Washington confirmed the Gulf state had been mediating between the nuclear-armed rivals to help them reach a “healthy and functional” relationship. 
“There have been a number of speculations about secret meetings between me and the external affairs minister of India, S. Jaishankar but neither was our meeting planned and nor are we meeting,” Qureshi told reporters.
“I am here for a bilateral visit and not an India-specific agenda. My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan.”
“I don’t think a meeting is set out with the Indian foreign minister,” Qureshi added.


Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

Updated 19 April 2021

Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

  • Over 4,500 patients are now in critical care, 30% higher than June last year
  • Planning minister says citizens making a “huge mistake” by not following coronavirus health guidelines

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads a federal body overseeing the country’s pandemic response, said Pakistani hospitals were filing up fast as coronavirus cases rose and oxygen supplies were “under stress.”
Pakistan on Monday recorded 5,152 new infections and 73 coronavirus-related deaths, government data showed, as a third wave of the coronavirus sweeps the country. The South Asian nation of 220 million has recorded 761,437 infections and 16,316 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in February last year.
According to official data, 4,515 coronavirus patients are currently in critical condition.
“Hospital fill up continuing to grow. Critical care patients now above 4500, which is 30% higher than peak in June last year. Oxygen supply capacity in the country is now under stress,” Umar said on Twitter, adding that compliance of coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) remained low. “We are making a huge mistake by not following sops.”


On Sunday, Hong Kong announced it would suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time. The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The British government has also banned international arrivals from Pakistan amid concerns over new virus variants.


Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

  • Eleven people died and 98 were injured after four carriages of the train derailed in a province north of Cairo 
  • Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday extended its condolences to Egypt, a day after 11 people were killed and 98 injured in a train accident in the Qalioubia province, 40km north of the capital, Cairo.
“We convey our deepest sympathies on the tragic train accident in Egypt,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a Tweet on Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the government, the brotherly people of Egypt and the families of those who have lost their lives. We wish quick recovery to the injured,” it added.

The accident took place after four carriages of the train, which was heading from Cairo to the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, derailed in Toukh on Sunday. 
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered the military’s engineering authority to investigate the crash, with the driver and rail officials detained for questioning.
Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province of the country, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200, including children.
Pakistan enjoys cordial ties with Egypt, with both countries working toward strengthening their relationship in recent months.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held talks with President El-Sisi during a two-day visit to Egypt in February this year, where he acknowledged that Egypt was an “important member” of the Muslim world, before describing it as the “gateway to Africa.”


Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

Updated 19 April 2021

Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

  • Three countries classified as "extremely high risk" after multiple imported cases of coronavirus into Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time, authorities said in a statement late on Sunday.
The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The city reported 30 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, 29 of which were imported, marking the highest daily toll since March 15. Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths.
Hong Kong authorities have been urging residents to get vaccinated for coronavirus with only around 9% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents vaccinated so far.
The government last week widened the city’s vaccine scheme to include those aged between 16 to 29 years old for the first time, as they aim to boost lacklustre demand for inoculations among residents.
Airlines impacted by Hong Kong’s ban on travelers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines include carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Vistara and Cebu Pacific.