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Parliamentary duties

November 07, 2018

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WHILE its members often struggle to fulfil the duties and responsibilities that the institution bestows on them, occasionally circumstances help the institution focus on the important issues of the day in a productive manner. Unhappily, after the PTI federal government surrendered to the mob in the streets last week, parliament on Monday put up an embarrassing performance as it ostensibly attempted to sift through the damage caused by the events of last week. Both the government and the opposition ought to recognise their role in allowing a parliamentary session to be suddenly adjourned overnight as a pair of MNAs from the treasury and opposition benches nearly came to blows on the floor of the National Assembly. A more muted session yesterday suggested that the custodians of the house on all sides recognised that the events of the day before were unparliamentary and ought not to be repeated.

With the new parliament less than three months into its term, it would be unfair to suggest that all the failings of parliament on show this week are entirely unprecedented. An 11th year of elected continuity in the country has failed to give a centrality to parliament that the democratic process requires. But there are several reasons why the current parliament appears to be veering off course and those reasons ought to be addressed. First, it appears that Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaiser is a parliamentarian out of his depth. While Mr Qaiser served as Speaker of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in the previous term, when the assembly had a fractious governing coalition and significant opposition, it is apparent that he is struggling to impose his authority on the National Assembly. Senior and junior members of the National Assembly alike often appear to ignore Mr Qaiser’s orders and that can cause house discipline to quickly break down. Speaker Qaiser can and must do better.

Second, Prime Minister Imran Khan appears to be fast losing interest in the functioning of parliament and has not yet held a single session of prime minister’s question hour that he had pledged to introduce. As with the previous two parliaments, when the prime minister and the ruling party chief himself shows scant interest in the house, ministers, heads of parliamentary committees and politicians soon also lose interest in performing their democratic duties. It is hoped that Prime Minister Khan will attend parliament this week and address his government’s handling of the violent protests last week and his visit to China. Third, the opposition must begin to take its own responsibilities seriously. The difference between PPP leader Khursheed Shah’s comments yesterday and the incendiary remarks made by a party colleague on Monday was that the latter was spoiling for a fight while Mr Shah skilfully made his point. Ugly scenes and ugly tones should be avoided in parliament.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2018

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