Ever since the 2018 elections and the coming into office of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government, parliament, particularly the National Assembly (NA), has resembled more a fish market than the apex elected house of the people’s representatives. The daily fare on the floor of the NA has consisted more than anything else of personal attacks and objectionable and unparliamentary language being traded across the aisles. This has led to innumerable walkouts by the opposition in protest, rendering the NA dysfunctional if not paralysed as far as its assigned role of legislation is concerned. The greater fault in this state of affairs has to be assigned to the treasury benches, with the opposition retaliating in kind. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) was wont to resort to such tactics in the last NA when it was in the opposition and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was in power. Taking a leaf out of their street language used to assail that government during their protests on containers or otherwise, the PTI unfortunately carried that barrage of bad language into the hallowed halls of parliament too, thus setting a poor example of civilian democracy and parliamentary conventions. Had this practice remained confined to when the PTI was in the opposition, there may have been room for forgiveness on the grounds that it was their inexperience and parliamentary immaturity that had been at work. But when they have chosen to not only adhere to this bad practice after coming to power (in controversial circumstances, it must be said) but arguably redoubled their characteristic hurling of invectives at the opposition, particularly its leadership, it should surprise no one that the other side has unfortunately also chosen to reply measure for measure. The outcome of this brawling in the NA can be discerned in its paralysis of normal day to day functioning, let alone taking up its real responsibility of legislation. Running parliament is of course a joint responsibility of both sides of the house, but a greater responsibility lies on the shoulders of the treasury. After all it is their legislative agenda the house has to deal with overwhelmingly. Six months down the road from the 2018 elections, the conspicuous absence of common civility let alone the heights to which parliamentary proceedings are expected to soar has reduced the house to a farce and legislative business to a nullity. It should be recalled how in our history the dysfunctionality of parliament more often than not has paved the way for military coups and dictatorship. A heavy responsibility therefore rests on the shoulders of all members of parliament to check these unfortunate tendencies and set an acceptable if not inspiring example for the people and future generations so that Pakistan sees at last the consolidation and continuation of a democratic order.
Given the bruising experience of the last six months in the NA, it is a matter of some relief that the realisation has set in that things cannot continue in this vein. Speaker of the NA Asad Qaiser has constituted a 13-member Committee of the Parliamentary Leaders to oversee and manage the conduct of MNAs in the house. The Speaker will chair the Committee that will have all the heavyweights of our political dispensation such as Leader of the House/Prime Minister Imran Khan, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif, former president and co-Chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari, Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid and other parliamentary party leaders. Its main function will be to oversee, take note of and examine matters related to conduct of the MNAs as per rules, practices and parliamentary conventions, while addressing complaints about breaches of the code of conduct. While this development is positive, there still exist reservations, especially in the minds of the PML-N, regarding the cast of characters in the Committee, some of whom have been at loggerheads in the past. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the MNAs as a whole, and the treasury benches in particular, to render parliamentary proceedings civilised and functional, particularly since the government enjoys only a razor thin majority in the NA and lacks a majority in the Senate. The basic function of parliament to enact legislation cannot be implemented without a minimum modicum of cooperation between the two sides.