Unending war of words in Parliament

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Both houses of parliament in Pakistan are in the grip of behaviour unbecoming for the image of the representative institutions. Being tough and unruly is generally recognised to be the pattern of behaviour adopted by opposition benches in parliament but it is the first time that such aggressive attitude is seen to be employed by the government benches. The harsh attitude displayed by treasury benches is the reflection of the aggressive stance taken by Imran Khan during his political struggle against the Nawaz Sharif government but it is surprising that he does not want to tone it down while being in government.

Government conduct in parliamentary affairs is usually measured, reflecting the onus of governance it entails compelling the prudent treasury benches to remain on their guard. They, however, are always mindful of their role as the standard-bearers of democratic rule and the significant impact of such understanding is reflected in their restrained parliamentary behaviour. The current fracas witnessed in the parliament has emphatically derailed the business of governance and the intention of the ruling party to remain on the attack is causing incalculable harm to the entire democratic exercise.

The extremely unwieldy diatribes of the information minister constrained the Chairman Senate to bar him from participating in the proceedings and gave birth to a barrage of accusations and counter-accusations. Instead of showing remorse for his harsh behaviour the information minister threatened to use other means at the disposal of his party in government to tackle the ruling of Chairman Senate. Unfortunately both sides are adamant about their positions and there appears to be no multi-partisan approach to calm the tempers down.

The hard line adopted by the ruling party is clearly designed to rattle the opposition and appears to be a calculated move to hold it in its track. The attitude becomes all the more dangerous because the ruling party has a history of defiling the parliamentary traditions indicating that it has no respect for it. Time and again it enunciated its disgust with parliamentary procedures and its leader deliberately avoided attending its sessions even after the judicial commission gave a verdict that elections of 2013 were largely devoid of malpractices.

To add to the woes is the singularly ineffective performance of the Speaker of the National Assembly who tried to accommodate opposition but failed to gain its support along with losing the sympathy of his party. He was never a national figure and the role given to him is much higher than his abilities although he had served as Speaker of KP provincial assembly. Same is the case with the new Chairman Senate who was virtually a non-entity before being catapulted to one of the highest positions in the state. Both these individuals are constrained by their natural dispositions and may not be able to affect desired and amicable change.

The opposition is also in disarray as its leader in National Assembly is kept under pressure of accountability that has given a chance to the ruling party to deny him the office of Chairman of Public Accounts Committee. The absence of clear-cut majority in both houses of parliament has made it difficult for any party to have a positive impact on governance. This is probably the most unexpected situation faced by political elements in the country and their tentative performance is playing in the hands of non-democratic forces.

The cobbled memberships of both National Assembly and Senate were designed precisely to keep democratic elements on tenterhooks and the policy appears to have succeeded beyond measure. Moreover, on the one hand, the hanging sword of accountability is keeping the opposition in distress and on the other the poor performance of the ruling party is pressing it to show as much defiance as possible.

The effective leaderships of all political groups in representative institutions have been kept out of the process through employment of prohibitive and coercive methods and the prime minister has never shown any interest in parliamentary politics. The crucial absence of decisive political forces has left the field open to irresponsible elements to continuously keep parliament under duress. The parliament is left in the hands of second and third tiers of party leadership that are devoid of any meaningful direction.

The situation is surely not going to last as extended lack of quorum and widespread boycotts will render the parliamentary business ineffective and will finally yield results expected by non-democratic elements. It is surprising to observe that political representatives have still not learnt the lesson that it is the parliamentary strength that keeps them relevant in their chosen field of activity. They have failed to realise that the floor of the house is more powerful than any other arrangement of governance and it is the only vehicle that can ensure their credibility and political life.

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