Saturday, January 28, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Jan 28, 2017

A terrible portent A meeting of parliamentary leaders with Speaker National Assembly (NA) Ayaz Sadiq to settle a code of conduct for parliamentarians in the light of the brawl that disrupted the proceedings of the house on January 26 ended without a decision. The next day, the Speaker announced that no business would be conducted in the house till the way forward had been decided by the parliamentary leaders. He therefore adjourned the house till January 30. A follow up meeting of parliamentary leaders is expected to take place before that session. During the meeting with parliamentary leaders, the Speaker reportedly offered to resign, but according to reports, all parties expressed confidence in him. This is positive and gratifying, particularly since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been complaining that the Speaker does not conduct the business of the house in a neutral manner. Mercifully, all the parties agreed that the incident was unfortunate and not good for democracy or the sanctity of parliament. It was at least agreed that hurling allegations and shouting slogans must end. The Speaker was of the view that excesses had been committed from both sides. He also spoke about the presence of a ‘stranger in the house’, PTI MNA Shahryar Afridi, whose membership remained suspended by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for not filing his returns of assets by the due date. Apparently the house stewards attempted to ask Afridi to leave but he adamantly refused on the ground that he had submitted the necessary return. However, no notification to the effect of removing his suspension had been issued by the ECP. But nothing could budge Afridi. The Speaker was inexplicably not informed by the NA staff of the presence of Afridi in the house, otherwise, the Speaker says, he would not have started the proceedings until the ‘stranger’ had been removed. This issue has assumed greater importance in the light of Afridi’s prominent role in the brawl. If the parliamentary leaders’ meeting with the Speaker failed to achieve any result, this is not surprising since, despite the cooing noises on all sides after the event, the blame game continues, with both sides pointing fingers at the other. The PTI has gone one step further by moving a privilege motion against some of the PML-N’s MNAs and Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Khaqan Abbasi, whose attempt to approach the PTI and other opposition members shouting slogans under the ‘conductor’s baton’ of Shah Mahmood Qureshi set off the row. The aftermath of the brawl shows that whereas blame can be apportioned amongst the Speaker, PTI and PML-N, no party shows any signs of contrition or concern about avoiding a repetition of such unsavoury incidents. The insistence of the PTI that no action be taken against any of its members, particularly Shahryar Afridi, indicates the mindset of the PTI. The party seems to have let frustration over its failure to shake the government in its anti-corruption drive (including the Panamagate issue) get the better of it. But the ruling PML-N should not have retaliated in kind, allowing the obvious provocation mounted by the PTI to get under its thin skin. The treasury benches have a greater responsibility for maintaining the dignity and decorum of the house, although it must be conceded they too have often been found wanting in this regard. Neither the treasury nor the opposition benches seem to remember what happened as a consequence of the fighting on the floor of the house in the 1990s. The conduct of the parliamentarians then, amongst other factors, so denuded parliament and democracy of legitimacy that the 1999 military coup was welcomed by large parts of civil society. Going further back, during the 1950s, the parliamentarians turned so violent that the Speaker of the NA was killed in the house in Dhaka. Arguably, incidents such as those paved the way for the 1958 military coup that set Pakistan on a regressive path ever since. Discontents with democracy already exist on the political, economic and social planes. If to those the parliamentarians themselves add deligitimising behaviour, the consequences are not beyond imagination.

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