DEMOCRACY is noisy — and that’s the beauty of it. However, it can get messy when those in power start using the state machinery and resort to violence to suppress their opponents.
There can be no two opinions that the JUI-F’s decision to bring volunteers of the ‘banned’ Ansarul Islam to the Parliament Lodges on Thursday night was unwarranted. But it did not justify the use of excessive force, and deployment of a large posse of police commandos and the anti-terrorist force to expel them from the official residences of the parliamentarians. And while the JUI-F’s action may be difficult to condone, it is hard to dismiss the logic behind it in the larger political context.
The introduction of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan a few days back has stirred passions among the PTI leader’s colleagues and supporters. Mr Khan himself has been constantly sounding warnings of dire consequences for the leadership of the opposition political parties ever since — and even before. Many are anticipating the arrest of both opposition lawmakers and treasury members suspected of siding with Mr Khan’s rivals ahead of the vote on the motion.
If the JUI-F is to be blamed for sending Ansarul Islam members to the Parliament Lodges to ‘protect’ to its legislators from any real or perceived threat, the government is equally responsible for its needless and excessive response. By turning the official residences into a battlefield for hours, it has only further damaged the PTI government’s public image. The ugly situation could easily have been avoided by involving the National Assembly speaker, who, as custodian of the House, is responsible for ensuring that no one is forcibly stopped from casting their vote.
However, the government does not appear to want to bring down the political temperatures. Warnings from Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid that the government would not let anyone take the law into their own hands is not helping to defuse the growing tension. Chances are that the bitterness between the two sides will increase in the run-up to the vote on the combined opposition’s motion.
The ruling party has already planned a public meeting near parliament a day before the vote and is urging its supporters to reach there in large numbers. To many, it shows that the prime minister and his team have decided to first fight the no-trust motion outside the Assembly as their grip on their legislators loosens and allies such as the PML-Q demand a higher price for their support. That does not bode well for democracy as the country cannot afford further divisions.
If the situation gets worse and leads to violence because of the uncalled-for actions of the ruling PTI, it will further disillusion those who already believe that politicians are thugs who cannot think beyond power and self-interest.
Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2022