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Pak Parliament to discuss ‘foreign threatening letter’ in camera

ISLAMABAD: PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif was elected as the 23rd prime minister of Pakistan after 174 lawmakers voted in his favour after Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MNAs boycotted the election.

PTI MNAs had walked out of the halls, with Shah Mahmood Qureshi — who was the party’s candidate for the top slot — announcing that they would be resigning en masse from the NA.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s 23rd Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is addressing the National Assembly after electing prime minister on Monday. Former President Asif Ali Zardari, Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other leaders are seated with him.

After the PTI boycotted the elections and walked out of the assembly, Shehbaz remained the lone contender for the prime minister’s slot and was consequently elected as the country’s chief executive.

PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq presided over today’s session after Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri said his conscience did not allow him to conduct the session.

Following his election, Shehbaz announced several policy measures he intended to take as the prime minister, with a particular focus on the economy and foreign relations. He also announced that PTI’s much publicized’ foreign threatening letter would be discussed in camera Parliamentary Committee session.

Later in the evening, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani administered oath to Shehbaz Sharif as President Dr Arif Alvi was feeling uncomfortable.

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Policy measures

Minimum wage to be increased to Rs25,000 from April 1

10pc increase in pensions from April 1

Wheat flour to be made available under a Ramazan package

Shehbaz commits to making Pakistan a “paradise for investments”

High electricity prices will be addressed

Measures to be taken for the progress of smaller provinces, where the youth will be given technical education and laptops

Ties to be strengthened with China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, UK and Iran

Good ties with India conditional on the “just” resolution of Kashmir dispute

Voice will be raised for Kashmiris, Palestinians and Afghanistan

Shehbaz expressed the resolve to improve the economy through hard work and national unity.

The newly elected prime minister announced that he would be making arrangements for an in-camera briefing of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security to discuss and determine the authenticity of a cable that the PTI claimed contained evidence of a foreign conspiracy to topple its government.

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Just minutes before the vote, legislators from PTI resigned en masse from the Lower House in protest at the expected formation of a government by Khan’s political opponents.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Elect Mian Shehbaz Sharif addressing the National Assembly.

“We are announcing we are all resigning,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi, former foreign minister and vice president of the party, said in a speech in the assembly.

Sharif emerged as the leader of a united opposition to topple Khan who has claimed that the United States was behind his downfall, which Washington has denied.

PTI submitted papers nominating former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as its candidate for prime minister Sunday before opting for mass resignations on Monday.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Elect Mian Shehbaz Sharif addressing the National Assembly.

The National Assembly convened for a session to decide the new prime minister at around 3:00 pm.

No elected prime minister has completed a full term in the nuclear-armed nation since it won independence from colonial power Great Britain in 1947, though Khan is the first to be removed by a no-confidence vote.

The military has ruled the country of 220 million people for almost half its nearly 75-year history. It viewed Khan and his conservative agenda favourably when he won the election in 2018.

ISLAMABAD: Acting President and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani administering oath to Shehbaz Sharif as the Prime Minister of Pakistan at the President House on April 11, 2022.

Khan remained defiant following his defeat in parliament. “The freedom struggle begins again today,” Khan said on his Twitter account on Sunday, which is followed by more than 15 million.

Thousands of Khan’s supporters gathered in cities, including Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, for protests against his ouster that went on until the early hours of Monday. They blocked roads and shouted slogans against rival parties and the US government.

Sharif’s first task will be to form a cabinet that will also draw heavily from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), as well as find space for the smaller hardline Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

After the PTI lawmakers left the hall announcing resignations, Ayaz Sadiq started the voting process for the election of the chief minister. Ayaz also mistakenly pronounced Shehbaz Sharif as Nawaz Sharif. He then apologised to Shehbaz, saying he has “made the mistake because Nawaz was in his heart and mind”.

Following the announcement of Shehbaz as the country’s new premier, lawmakers started walking from the opposition benches to the treasury benches. However, with chairs empty on both sides of the aisle, many stayed where they were.

Victory speech

In his speech, PM-elect Shehbaz congratulated the Supreme Court of Pakistan for declaring the deputy speaker’s ruling unconstitutional and “burying the doctrine of necessity forever”.

Though the opposition parties have the support of the dissident members of PTI, they didn’t cast vote on Monday but stayed in the opposition’s lobbies.

Shehbaz said he would resign the second it is proven that the opposition had any link with the ‘foreign conspiracy’, saying soon an in-camera briefing would be arranged on the alleged threatening letter.

The prime minister-elect also shunned the allegations of treason against opposition parties, saying: “Dialogue should replace deadlock as change would not come merely through speeches”. He emphasised on bringing harmony for moving forward, especially, addressing the economic issues being faced by the country.

“Neither anyone was traitor nor anyone is traitor,” Shehbaz said, adding that it’s time to move ahead with unity instead of being divided.

Minimum wage rises to Rs25k

PM-elect Shehbaz also said the PTI-led government left the country’s economy in tatters with current account deficit and other economic indicators “worsening”.

He announced raising the minimum wage to Rs25,000 and also announced a 10% hike in pensions of retired government employees. Government employees earning less than Rs100,000 would also be given a 10% raise, he added.

BISP makes a comeback

Responding to former PM Imran Khan’s ‘independent foreign policy’ claims, Premier-elect Shehbaz said former premier Nawaz Sharif did not say “absolutely rejected” to US when it pressured Pakistan to halt nuclear tests. “We respectfully rejected their [US] offer of $5 billion and made country’s defence invincible.”

The premier-designate said his government will work with provinces to provide relief to masses and reintroduce the Benazir Income Support programme which was introduced by the former PPP-led government at Centre.

‘Khadim-e-Pakistan’

The PM-designate referred to him as “Khadim-e-Pakistan” (chief servant of Pakistan), a title that is reminiscent of the designation “Khadim-e-Aala” that Shehbaz used to describe himself when he was a chief minister of Punjab.

‘New foreign policy’

Speaking about the country’s foreign policy, the PM-designate vowed to re-strengthen ties with Beijing, saying that his government will complete China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects at “Punjab speed”.

He accused his predecessor of damaging relations with China.

PM-elect Shehbaz Sharif is addressing the NA session in Islamabad on April 11. PHOTO: PID

The PM-designate said Pakistan would also maintain cordial ties with Britain, European countries and the United States to boost the country’s exports.

The United Kingdom has also always supported democracy in Pakistan and also spent billions of pounds on education and others sectors in Pakistan. Whatever happens in London affects Pakistan and vice versa, he added.

“We have historic ties with the US… [bilateral] relations however have witnessed ups and downs, but it does not mean that we strain our ties with America but we have to maintain relations on equal footing,” he remarked.

PM-designate Shehbaz also offered Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold dialogue with Pakistan in a bid to end miseries of the people living on both sides of the border.

“Neighbours are not matter of choice, but something you have to live with. We want cordial ties with India but without the resolution of Kashmir dispute the ties cannot be improved,” he added.

“We [Pakistan] will continue to provide diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiris… I want to give an advice to [PM] Narendra Modi; come and resolve the issues through dialogue to end the poverty and miseries of the people living on both sides of the border.”

The PM-designate said the country’s economic strength is dependent on diplomacy.

He also highlighted the plight of Afghans, saying that the people of the neighbouring countries were in desperate need of basic necessities. “We have to speak in favour of millions of Muslims living in the neighbouring country and facing acute food and medicine shortages… if condition further deteriorates there will be massive exodus from [Afghanistan] to K-P.”

Suri defends ruling

Earlier in the day, the session to elect a new premier commenced after the recitation of the Holy Quran. The session was chaired by the deputy speaker who gave reasons behind his earlier ruling to dismiss the no-trust vote against Imran, which was set aside by Supreme Court.

“The ruling was declared unconstitutional by the court and we all are obliged to respect the court. But I want to tell you the reason behind my ruling,” said Suri.

He added that the decision was taken “as a responsible Pakistani and deputy speaker of the NA”.

Suri then referred to the diplomatic communiqué and said that the cable was discussed during the meeting of the NSC, in the federal cabinet and a parliamentary committee meeting. He added that it was “proven” that the no-trust motion was linked to a foreign conspiracy.

“On April 9, it was it was decided during a cabinet meeting that the cable would be declassified and sent to then-NA speaker Asad Qaiser by the government.”

The deputy speaker further said that the speaker of the house reviewed the cable as well.

“Talking about an independent foreign policy, independent economy … and fighting the case of Islamophobia Imran Khan’s fault?”

“Was he [Imran] punished because he refused slavery?”

PTI senior leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi took the floor after the deputy speaker’s clarification on his earlier ruling.

As the former foreign minister concluded his speech, PTI and its allies stood up from their chairs and left the assembly hall amid sloganeering.

As Qureshi finished his speech, Sure said his “conscience no longer allows him to be a part of the proceedings” and gave the chair of the house to PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq.

Mass resignations

In a video message after the meeting of the PTI, the former information minister said PTI Chairman Imran Khan has decided that the PTI would not legitimise this ‘foreign-funded regime change’ in Pakistan by taking part in the election of the premier.

“The parliamentary meeting of the PTI gave Imran the complete authority to make decisions on the lawmakers’ behalf.”

Fawad said as per the directions of Imran, no PTI lawmaker will vote in the election for the PM and after that, the PTI MNAs will also send their resignations to the National Assembly speaker.

He acknowledged that there was a difference of opinion over the decision to resign en masse from the assembly but the parliamentary party gave Imran the authority to make this decision who decided in favour of resignations.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan said that there were two mega corruption cases against PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif and it would be the “biggest insult to the country” to elect him as the prime minister of Pakistan.

Earlier in the day, PTI General Secretary Asad Umar in a letter told party lawmakers to vote for Shah Mehmood Qureshi else they will be considered defectors and disqualified under Article 63-A.

“I take this opportunity to convey to you that all members of parliamentary party are required to attend the session of National Assembly on April 11 for election Prime Minister of Pakistan and vote in favour Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who has been nominated as the candidate for prime minister,” Umar wrote.