ISLAMABAD: The government may face a major challenge in getting the upcoming federal budget passed through the National Assembly as the opposition has conveyed it to the rulers that it will support the Finance Bill 2018 only if they say yes to the opposition’s nominee for the post of caretaker prime minister.
With the new budget just around the corner and several names under consideration for appointment as caretaker PM, the opposition parties – regardless of their mutual differences – want to capitalise on the opportunity to get one of their candidates elevated to the top caretaker post.
During recent interactions between the government and the opposition over caretaker premier, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has conveyed to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that opposition parties will support the budget only if Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announces accepting an opposition-nominated candidate as caretaker PM, according to sources in the PML-N.
Reportedly, the PPP and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are on the same page on the issue.
No name is finalised yet, but sources say that the ruling side wants elevation of either of the two former chief justices of Pakistan – Jawwad S Khawaja and Anwar Zaheer Jamali – whereas the opposition parties support former governor of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Dr Ishrat Hussain and former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani.
Other names being considered by the leader of the house and the leader of opposition in the NA include former CJPs Nasirul Mulk and Mian Shakirullah Jan, former SBP governor Dr Shamshad Akhtar and former caretaker PM Mir Hazar Khan Khoso.
With the PML-N lawmakers from Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Centre defecting, the party leadership is concerned that attaining simple majority to get the Finance Bill passed would be a gigantic challenge for the ruling coalition.
Citing some reports doing the rounds in the party circles, the sources say that up to 70 lawmakers from the PML-N have decided to quietly boycott the budget session due to their differences with the party leadership in a bid to prevent the government from getting the budget passed.
In case of large-scale defections or absence of considerable number of lawmakers in the budget session at the time of voting, the PML-N would struggle to secure a simple majority either due to lack of quorum, which could lead to the adjournment of the session, or for lack of simple majority.
The government would present the budget on Friday, April 27, and the NA is expected to debate it for a couple of weeks before finally passing it, provided that the government attains a simple majority to let the bill pass through the lower house.
The formal process for choosing caretaker PM kicked off on April 11 following a meeting between Abbasi, in his capacity as Leader of the House in NA, and Khursheed Shah, the Leader of Opposition in the NA. Names of potential candidates were reportedly discussed in the meeting.
A source in the PML-N who enjoys close association with the PM said Abbasi had laid stress on reaching a consensus on choosing a candidate during his meeting with Shah, saying that the political parties should not leave space for ‘other institutions’ to intervene.