FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 22

A House in disorder

The leader of the opposition was able to complete his speech in the National Assembly after three days of intense sloganeering and mud-slinging. The nation saw shameful scenes created by both government and opposition members. The way abuses and objects were hurled and personal comments passed against each other and rival political leaders, shows increasing intolerance and disturbing trends in politics. It should not have happened in the highest legislative forum of the country as it has further maligned the image of politicians among the public.

Exchanges of harsh words between treasury and opposition members are not unusual but nobody expected them to physically attack each other. A female member of the government was injured when someone from the opposition benches threw a sanitizer bottle at her. The leader of the opposition delivered his speech in the cordon of sergeants-at-arms to protect him from attacks from the treasury benches. The Speaker had to ban the entry of seven members to run the affairs of the House smoothly. It is not unusual for legislators to act in an unruly manner, but they crossed all limits this time and not only brought shame to themselves but the whole nation.

The National Assembly remained a battleground for three days as the opposition and treasury members attacked each other with budget documents and books. Speaker Asad Qaiser had to suspend the proceedings of the House many times when the members refused to pay heed to his appeals to stay calm. They continued sloganeering, whistling and desk-thumping. Opposition members surrounded their leader, Shehbaz Sharif, to avoid any physical contact with the treasury MNAs. MNA Ali Nawaz Awan, who is also special assistant to the prime minister, threw a book at the opposition benches, which came back to him. The proceedings of the House resumed after over two dozen sergeants-at-arms made a human wall between the treasury and opposition members and bifurcated the assembly hall into two camps. As soon as opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif took the floor and started criticising the government for its economic policies, the treasury members again stood up and started whistling, desk-thumping and chanting slogans, like chor, chor (thief, thief), daku, daku (robber, robber) and “TT, TT”, a reference to his alleged involvement in “telegraphic transfer” used for money laundering. During his speech, some of the treasury members attempted to advance towards the opposition benches, but they were stopped by the security staff. As the government members raised slogans against the Sharif family, the opposition members chanted slogans against Prime Minister Imran Khan, his ministers and sister. As the shouting match intensified, Parliamentary Secretary for Law Maleeka Bokhari was hit by a flying object and received injury to her eye. Few MNAs also complained that they had received bruises during the scuffle. However, the security staff faced the brunt of the fight as they were hit by objects thrown by both sides at each other.

It was shocking that many senior politicians from the government and the opposition were present in the House, but they failed to pacify the situation. The presence of federal Ministers Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umer, Shafqat Mahmood, Fawad Chaudhry, Ali Muhammad Khan, Ali Amin Gandapur, Murad Saeed and Shireen Mazari and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari could not stop the members from both sides from hurling abuses at each other. The opposition charged that the senior ministers had not only made an attempt to stop their protesting members, but also encouraged them to create rumpus, thus confirming that it was an official policy of the government to not allow the opposition leader to deliver the budget speech. Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry had already announced that they would not allow Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto to deliver speeches without first having a “written guarantee” that they would hear speeches of Prime Minister Imran Khan and ministers silently.

After adjourning the proceedings, Speaker Asad Qaiser announced that he had ordered an inquiry into the events that took place during the assembly proceedings and “the members using unparliamentary language will not be allowed to enter the house. “The unparliamentary attitude and use of indecent language by the members of both opposition and treasury members is condemnable and disappointing,” he tweeted. After three days of clashes, both sides reached an agreement to ensure smooth proceedings of the House. Following the agreement, the opposition withdrew its no-confidence motion against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri. They agreed that no individual would be targeted and insulted during speeches.

Sanity has returned to the National Assembly after efforts from both sides. It appears that both sides had decided to adopt an aggressive stance against each other, which led to an embarrassing situation for them. However, the government had the responsibility to calm the situation. It should have tolerated the rude behaviour of the opposition members to run the affairs of the House smoothly. However, its strategy worked in the end and the opposition had to sit with it for an agreement. It appears the calmness may not last long as both sides thrive on allegations against each other. The relationship between the two sides will worsen in the coming days as they are preparing for the next election. However, they should avoid repeating the recent scenes. It only maligns the image of politicians and democracy. It is better if both sides leave aside politics and concentrate on legislation to improve the lot of the common people.