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EDITORIAL: When representatives of the opposition and government met in National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser’s chamber, following ugly scenes of bad behaviour by legislators from both sides of the aisle, that inspired hope they would stop making mutual recriminations and focus on carrying out the business of the House in a smooth fashion. But it turned out to be a vain hope. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who was present at the meeting, told journalists both the PPP and the PML-N had assured the Speaker that there would be no personal attacks on the parliamentary leaders, especially heads of the two major opposition parties – the PPP and PML-N - and the ruling PTI. The PPP seemed to own that commitment as Farhatullah Babar said that his party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was surprised when Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar levelled a personal attack on him during Friday’s assembly session, quoting Bilawal as saying “when it had been agreed that the government and the opposition would not spoil peace in the National Assembly, why did Azhar not honour the commitment?” A pertinent question, indeed.

The PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, however, offered a completely different version of the meeting. According to a press report, she maintained that her party leaders had not given any commitment to the government. She also contradicted Fawad Chaudhry’s statement that the proposal not to target party heads during speeches came from Nawaz League’s Rana Tanvir, insisting the government had floated that proposal. Also, while claiming that Prime Minister Imran Khan was quite angry at the opposition’s sloganeering against him in the budget session, she added, if Shehbaz Sharif is personally attacked in the Assembly, the PM would get the same treatment from the opposition. Clearly, unlike the PPP, the PML-N remains in a belligerent mode. It may be recalled that after failing to bring order in the House, the Speaker had asked the government and the opposition to reach an understanding on conducting the budget session. Forming a committee for the purpose, he had invited both sides to nominate six members, each. The PML-N now seems to suggest the same committee was set up for another purpose, saying the Speaker had assured the opposition that he would set up a parliamentary committee to review 21 bills passed in one go on June 10. It is unclear whether or not he had given such an undertaking. The government, nonetheless, did no credit to itself when instead of holding proper debate and discussion it steamrollered so many draft laws, including the controversial electoral reforms amendment bill, through the assembly. Given that every election result is marred by accusation of rigging, it should hold consultations with the opposition at least on the electoral reforms before it goes to the Senate for approval.

Both sides seem not to see the forest for the trees. Disruptive behaviour could have serious ramification for the democratic process. It is, therefore, imperative that narrow political interests are not allowed to make the Parliament dysfunctional. The government and the opposition parties need to rise above the fray while inside the National Assembly, and play by the established rules and traditions.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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