Parliament Pakistani style | Arif Nizami

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After almost being punched and slapped by Murad Saeed, a furious PTI MNA, Javed Latif, a member of the parliament belonging to PML-N, finally decided to apologise. What brought about this change of heart within a day of the sad incident?
Murad Saeed, who is well known for his ill temper, was generally blamed for resorting to violence against a fellow MNA. After all earlier in January the same PTI MNA was involved in another brawl within the house. In a fit of rage he was a ready to pounce on the mild mannered minister for petroleum, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, when members on both sides of the aisle were engaged in an altercation over Panamagate.
Even some of the soberest within the print media were quick to blame Murad Saeed for his boorish behaviour. And judging from his past behaviour and anger management problem, they seemed to be spot on.
It was the social media –yes the social media — that the Islamabad High Court judge, justice Shaukat Siddiqui, is so keen to ban and the enigmatic interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, is in a big hurry to oblige him.
The clip that became viral on the social media shows the erring PML-N MNA verbally attacking Murad Saeed belowthe belt in a highly personal and derogatory manner. Imran Khan, however, let the cat out of the bag. True to his candid style he gave away the real reason behind Murad Saeed’s anger. According to his tweet: #I condemn in strongest terms the shocking abusive language used by MNA Javed Latif against Murad Saeed’s female family members #.
The Khan contradicted his MNA who gave the PML-N MNA’s derogatory behaviour towards his leader as the reason behind his violent outburst. The PTI chief in another tweet said: # stooping to such depths especially in our society where the sanctity of our families is respected by even the worst of enemies is unacceptable#.
In response to Latif ’s lewd remarks against Murad ’s sisters, Imran Khan claimed that he would have gone ten steps further than his MNA had he been there. Unsurprisingly the PML-N MNA despite apologising is unrepentant.
The root of the problem lies in using abusive language in personal attacks against political opponents. Perhaps in response to Imran Khan and his stalwarts’ recalcitrant behaviour the PML-N has also raised the ante. The daily spectacle witnessed during the hearing of the Panamagate in the apex court right in front of the Supreme Court building by both the PML-N and PTI leaders broadcast live by all news channels is a sad commentary on the state of our democracy.
The same chorus is chanted in front of the parliament building when the National Assembly is in session. The hyperactive PML-N media cell at the prime minister house, headed by Sharif’s daughter Maryam Safdar, has produced some original talent in the form of Messers Abid Sher Ali, Danyal Aziz and Talal Choudhry. Occasionally ministers the two Khawajas (Saad Rafiq and Khawaja Asif) are ever ready to garnish their flowery language.
On the other hand Imran Khan himself is extremely fond of engaging the media (sometimes more than once a day) cursing both Sharifs and Zardari. The PTI MNAs Muhammad Khan and Murad Saeed ably assist him in this task. The same exalted personalities entertain viewers during prime time on different channels.
It is another matter that these politicians who are so active on the media hardly take the trouble to participate whole-heartedly in the proceedings of both Houses of the parliament. The only time the National Assembly and the Senate is in quorum for an extended period is when the question of raising the salaries and perks and privileges of our public representatives is discussed.
Taking cue from the prime minister the members of the cabinet, with the exception of a few, rarely take the trouble of attending parliamentary sessions even when their own departments are in the dock.
The PTI chief also considers attending sessions of the present parliament as a waste of time. Hence it is no surprise that according FAFEN (Free and Fair Election Network) a non-profit NGO, during the 24th session of the National Assembly the PTI chief’s attendance in all of the fourteen sessions remained zero.
It is obvious that the level of debate and legislative record of the parliament leaves a lot to be desired. The ruling party reckons that after being elected for five years it does not need the crutches of the parliament to govern. In the scheme of things of Nawaz Sharif, he prefers to rulethrough a coterie of cronies and advisors handpicked from his family, party loyalists and super bureaucrats.
On the floor of the National Assembly every member is considered equal. But in the vice regal style of governance the prime minister is not content to be the first amongst equals where any MNA not only from the opposition but from the ruling party as well can approach him.
After the Panama Leaks, Sharif addressed the parliament. Since then he avoids attending its sessions lest someone from the opposition might raise awkward questions or chant unsavoury slogans.
That is why — thanks to the acts of omission and commission of both the government and rump of the opposition — the parliament rather than being a repository of the empowerment of the people cannot even be termed as a debating society. The focus is more on debate outside the parliament rather than within.
Perhaps with the exception of a few, it is more a source of privilege and pocketing funds in the name of development for its members who as a general rule spend millions to get elected.
Admittedly the parliamentary committees perform a useful role. Here also treasury members fail to participate.
During the previous PPP government things were better in the sense that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani regularly attended National Assembly sessions. He was also readily available to members from both the treasury and opposition benches.
Some useful legislation and structural changes to make the constitution more democratic, parliamentary and federal were made. However, it can be justifiably argued that even during this period the presidency was calling the shots.
The same performance is replicated in the provincial assemblies. However optics are much better in Sindh and KP assemblies. At least unlike the Punjab assembly the respective chief ministers are omnipresent. In fact Sindh assembly sessions, generally televised, are quite lively.

The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today. He can be contacted at arifn51@hotmail.com.