Chaos in parliament

Published February 6, 2021

THE scenes of chaos in the National Assembly this week have been a pitiful yet pertinent symbol of the reality of politics in the country today. An enraged opposition and a bullish ruling party locked horns during Thursday’s session, escalating already simmering tensions and confirming once again that civility and dialogue are unthinkable for both sides.

Sloganeering, desk-thumping and shouting are hardly uncommon occurrences during Assembly sessions and have been resorted to by MNAs since the 1990s. This particular session, however, also featured lawmakers abusing each other to a point where a scuffle broke out. At one point, the speaker of the Assembly had to be protected by a ring of sergeants-at-arms as opposition lawmakers gathered before him. Perhaps for the first time in our parliamentary history, treasury members staged a walkout from the house after pointing out lack of quorum to prevent opposition lawmakers from making speeches. As a result, despite a three-hour session, the debate on the bill seeking an open Senate vote remained inconclusive.

The divisions between the PTI and opposition parties are clear as day, but both sides, though cheerleaders of democracy by their own proclamations, indulge in behaviour that hurts the democratic process.

Here, the opposition must reflect on what it will achieve by turning up the political temperature in the Assembly to the extent that no constructive debate is possible. Its announcement of a date for its long march notwithstanding, the PDM needs to be clear on its position. While it has announced that caravans will march to Islamabad on March 26, no details have been shared about the alliance’s strategy.

The PPP’s desire to move a no-confidence motion against the prime minister is clearly not popular with the other party leaders and remains an unresolved sticking point. Yet the alliance is sticking together and ostensibly forging ahead with its plans. What is their end goal, and what will the march realistically achieve is anyone’s guess.

The government is as much to blame for the hysteria not only in the Assembly but also in talk shows and on social media. It has constantly goaded the opposition and shown high-handedness and aggression towards it at every forum. Its failure to reach out to the opposition for its key responsibility of legislative business is also hurting the system.

Unfortunately, it appears as though this behaviour is encouraged in the party and opposition-bashing is the ready response to every situation. Sanity must prevail, for this bitterness is giving no relief to the public.

There are a few seasoned politicians in government ranks who have the experience of dealing with such situations, and, for the sake of pragmatism, they need to come forward to help bring down the temperature. Sadly, going by the tone of Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s speech in the Assembly this week, such engagement is a distant dream.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2021

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