Wages of acrimony

September 14, 2019

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THERE was little that was surprising in the reception the opposition accorded to President Arif Alvi as he addressed a joint session of parliament on Thursday. There had been signs of an impending ruckus, and fortunate were those in the house who were able to understand something of what the president said. Some of Mr Alvi’s predecessors in earlier times had not been that lucky while addressing legislators, and could hardly make themselves heard. The current opposition says that the Imran Khan government has more than earned this confrontation thanks to its hostile attitude, and believes that the treasury’s stance on many points has betrayed a desire to deny the opposition — and parliament at large — its due role. Whereas such statements are expected from those in the opposition, who often take refuge in criticism to conceal their own lack of effort, many independent voices will corroborate that the Khan setup has indeed made no secret of its utter dislike for its rivals in parliament. It is an acrimonious relationship, and while the opposition would do well to sometimes lend an ear to what top officials of the state have to say without constantly interrupting them and disrupting proceedings, most of the blame must lie with the government.

There is much evidence of the holy status the government has arrogated to itself. Take the selective accountability drive in the country. Much of the protest in the house on Thursday circled around the treasury’s reluctance to allow relief to some legislators, who are currently in custody on corruption-related charges, and to let them take part in parliamentary proceedings. The grant of such relief has been a sore point, and the ruling party has been dealing with it with a lot of unnecessary anger. Another bone of contention is the lack of a firm commitment by the government to retain the 18th Amendment — the most important law protecting provincial rights. Additionally, there is the matter of the nomination of two members to the ECP without consultation with the opposition. And if that were not problematic enough, a statement by the federal law minister citing a constitutional clause to uphold the centre’s dominance is being cited as an example of arrogance by the Sindh government. Hence, the parliamentary blockade of the president’s speech, reinforced by a culture of disruptions in the legislature, was not unexpected. Many more vociferous episodes could well be in store.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2019