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EDITORIAL: After three consecutive days of treasury and the opposition benches, almost at each other’s throats, the leader of the opposition, Shehbaz Sharif, was able to deliver his speech on the federal budget. Proceedings of the nation’s highest legislative forum in the last few days hang one’s head in shame. On the third consecutive day on Wednesday when the treasury benches again tried to interrupt the budget speech of leader of the opposition, it led to more than a shouting match between members from both sides of the aisle. The Speaker who had called the sergeants-at-arms to protect Sharif was compelled to suspend the proceedings within five minutes when someone from the opposition benches threw a sanitizer hitting a ruling party MNA. It was bad enough that Sharif was not allowed to make himself heard; earlier, acting like street urchins the two sides had hurled unprintable expletives at one another also throwing copies of the budget documents, which begin with sacred words. Surely their conduct has gone too far. They have behaved in a way that has upset or annoyed everyone.

True, that it is not something new for legislators to act in an unruly manner. But it becomes a problem when this is a consistent pattern of behaviour, especially when the ruling party resorts to tit-for-tat action. The treasury benches decided to give a hard time to Sharif because the opposition had kept shouting during the Finance Minister’s budget speech, making it impossible for Speaker Asad Qaiser to maintain order. After the legislators’ disgraceful performance on Wednesday, he banned the entry of seven members, three of them from the ruling PTI, also announcing that he would not run the House till the time the government and opposition reach an understanding on conducting the budget session, asking them to nominate six representatives each to a parliamentary committee formed for the purpose. Instead, the opposition parties, refusing to hold talks with government, decided to move a no-confidence motion against him. They have already moved a similar motion against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, purportedly, for allowing the government, last week, to bulldoze legislation through the House. Indeed, it is the duty of the Speaker to maintain order, but he can do little if disruptions are pre-planned, and hence unstoppable.

Unfortunately, both sides have been violating parliamentary rules and traditions. When Prime Minister Imran Khan made his maiden speech in the National Assembly, it was constantly punctuated by loud noises from the opposition benches, which his party men cite to justify their rowdy conduct. That though is no excuse for bad behaviour. The opposition may go too far at times but it has every right to criticise government plans and policies. The main responsibility to maintain the sanctity of the House falls squarely on the shoulders of the treasury benches. They must create an atmosphere in which all issues at hand are discussed and debated in a civilised manner. It does not behove the public representatives to act like hooligans. Repeat of what has been on display during the last few days can make the Parliament dysfunctional, which is in no one’s interest. It is hoped cooler heads will soon prevail and both sides will sit together to find a way for smooth running of parliamentary business.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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