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EDITORIAL: What happened in the National Assembly on Thursday would long be remembered for the lawmakers’ unruly, shameful behavior. The house was to debate a constitutional amendment proposed by the government, seeking Senate vote by show of hands instead of secret ballot. Acting equally rowdily, members of the opposition and treasury benches exchanged insults and even broke into scuffles. At one point, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, presiding over the session in the Speaker’s absence, had to call in sergeants-at-arms when some opposition members gathered around his dais to register their protest against his purported unfair conduct. Since the opposition had been vehemently criticizing the open vote proposal, the amendment bill had snow ball’s chance in hell of getting approved, yet the government introduced it in an apparent bid to embarrass the two major opposition parties, the PML-N and PPP, by reminding them of the Charter of Democracy their leaders had signed a while ago vowing, among other things, to change the mode of Senate election and disqualify members who violated party lines. In the event, the ruling party was blindsided by the reaction from across the aisle. For the first time in this country’s parliamentary history, treasury members staged a walkout claiming a lack of quorum only to find the Deputy Speaker declare the house in order following a vote count. After three long hours the proceedings ended on an inconclusive note.

The obvious cause of unremitting hostility between the two sides is Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated assertions that he would not give an ‘NRO’ to the opposition leaders involved in cases of alleged corruption, a resolve regurgitated ad nauseam by his party men and women. Some of them also keep making predictions about the arrest of opposition figures, lending credence – inadvertently, of course - to the other side’s contention that they are being subjected to politics of revenge. His party having won the election on an anti-corruption plank, the PM is right in insisting to hold all wrongdoers to account. That though is the job of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which is supposed to function independent of interference from the executive or any other quarters. The government would be wise to let the NAB do its work, focusing its own attention and energies on the myriad other issues facing the people. For its part, the opposition parties’ alliance, the PDM, has not gained anything by launching a countrywide campaign for the Prime Minister’s resignation. It has now announced its plan for a ‘long march’ to Islamabad on March 26. Like the other events before, it too is unlikely to achieve that objective.

The best forum for the opposition to give vent to its grievances is Parliament. The main responsibility for a smooth functioning of the nation’s highest legislative forum lies with the government. The opposition may have good reason to be irate, but it also needs to act in a responsible manner. Ratcheting up of tensions can only harm the democratic process. That surely is not in the interest of either side or the people of this country who have fought long and hard for the restoration of democracy.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021