Setting a good precedent
Setting the stage for a second democratic transition, 326 newly elected members of the 15th National Assembly took the oath in an unusual calm during the inaugural session. The opposition parties, which had earlier announced plans to lodge strong protests inside and outside parliament against alleged riggings in 2018 general elections from the platform of an alliance, Pakistan Free and Fair Elections Network, however remained peaceful.
The oath taking ceremony took place in a very cordial atmosphere as several opposition leaders were seen exchanging pleasantries with members National Assembly belonging to Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), the party poised to form its government, barring the arrogant lot of PML-N like Ahsan Iqbal and Khawaja Asif.
Establishing a precedent worth emulation, PTI Chairman and Prime Minister in waiting Imran Khan took the lead in maintaining a reconciliatory atmosphere, when he shook hands with Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) President Shabaz Sharif, Chirman Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former President Asif Ali Zardari. Imran Khan also posed for a photo with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif zardari before the inaugural session.
It is a good omen that major opposition parties, PML-N and PPP, did not fall prey to mischievous and dangerous political move of ANP President Asfandiyar Wali urging them to boycott the oath taking ceremony and launch a nationwide protest against the alleged rigging of polls. This proposal of creating chaos and disorder was articulated by JUI (F) Central Amir Maulana Fazalu Rehman and silently backed by Pk MAP Chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai. Young PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari deserves all praise for categorically rejecting this proposal. He vowed to perform an active role of opposition inside parliament, while PML-N President Shabaz Sharif was indecisive.
Hopefully, the process of election of Speaker and deputy Speaker of National Assembly and Prime Minister will be held in a cordial atmosphere. The election of speaker and deputy speaker is held through secret ballot whereas Prime Minister is elected by open vote.
In sharp contrast to the practice of PML-N to give top parliamentary slots to the law makers from Punjab, PTI leadership has adopted an evenhanded approach to ensure representation to smaller provinces. National assembly Speaker has been nominated from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Deputy Speaker from Baluchistan. It was the unflinching support of PTI to PPP that Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani from Baluchistan was elected to the august office of Chairman Senate, the election which PML-N leadership did not accept till the end of its tenure of government. Giving representation to smaller provinces, particularly Baluchistan, sends a positive message to the federating units and strengthens federation which is the spirit of 1973 constitution. As for the persona of Imran Khan, he transcends the boundaries of ethnicity and provinces. He is the son of the soil national leader of international stature and fame.
Pakistan is facing multiple challenges on the economic and foreign policy front. The economy is in shambles and the PML-N government, particularly Nawaz Sharif put foreign policy on the backburner. The diplomatic inertia of five years resulted in strained relations with India, the United States and Afghanistan, and with the neighbouring Iran relations remained cool. People expect from opposition parties a total support to the new government to cope with these challenges. They should also give support to the treasury benched in parliament for legislations which require two-third majority vote. Talking to reporters PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary has hinted at amendments in the Articles 62, 63 and 18th Amendment. Opposition parties must contribute to the legislative business that strengthens democracy and the federation.