Squabbling politicians

March 23, 2019

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IF there is one thing that the government and opposition parties could agree on, it would be disagreeing with each other at every opportunity — even if it meant that governance had to take a back seat with important decisions being perpetually stalled. Given a fresh opportunity to be at each other’s throats, the PTI and its political rivals are at loggerheads on the important issue of the implementation of the National Action Plan — a collective vow taken by political parties and institutions, in the aftermath of the 2014 Army Public School massacre, to tackle the plague of terrorism. As expected, due to political differences, major opposition parties are considering a boycott of a scheduled briefing on the implementation of NAP. The JUI-F has announced its decision to skip the March 28 meeting and the PML-N and PPP are mulling the boycott option, with Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif stating that Prime Minister Imran Khan should brief the entire parliament instead of some lawmakers only, and the PPP saying it will be difficult for the party to sit with government functionaries after the “brutal police action” against its workers in Islamabad. Meanwhile, the government and opposition, by not holding the required consultations, have created yet another hurdle for the appointment of two ECP members.

That the two major opposition parties have serious political differences with the government — and vice versa — is hardly surprising. The months leading to last year’s general elections saw petty one-upmanship, name-calling and vitriol by both sides broadcast live into homes. Several months after the elections, egos remain inflated; the prime minister does not want to face the ruckus in the National Assembly; both he and Mr Sharif refuse to talk to or even greet each other; and the political environment across the country reeks of acrimony. The difference now is that the campaign season is a thing of the past, and parliament with its pending decisions is in limbo.

The chaotic circus of angry lawmakers needs to urgently correct their attitude. With high-priority decisions like NAP and the ECP appointments at stake, both the government and opposition parties must allow saner voices to engage in dialogue and find a solution so that cordial, productive consultations can take place. In this atmosphere, the words of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who said, “One step at a time. Let us make a beginning”, are encouraging and must seriously be considered by the top leadership of the PTI, as the responsibility to take parliament forward lies with the prime minister. Mistrust and tit-for-tat accusations must be reconsidered so that serious deliberations can take place on matters crucial to democracy. Both parties must realise that they cannot hold back the democratic process as they assuage their bruised egos — they must pause the fighting and respect the process.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2019