Sunday May 29, 2022

Indispensability of opposition

December 18, 2018

The civil society took sigh of relief when PTI leadership finally agreed to accept Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif as Chairman of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which was the foremost demand of the Opposition parties throughout. The government’s earlier obduracy that seemingly had attained the finality was major cause of worry although it was untenable in the face of parliamentary dynamics those could not be disregarded if the Parliament had to be functional. Eventually the chips fall where they may. It was indeed good news the people had been waiting for.

Its absence had evidently rendered the Parliament totally dysfunctional bordering on some kind of entity that was good for nothing. This perception of the Parliament mainly attributed to the government was casting aspersions on the treasury benches as incapable of getting along with the democratic norms. Thank goodness, now the logjam had broken though after wasting more than four precious months.

Indeed, prevailing upon of the good sense among the leaders of the incumbent government was though too late but might not be deemed as too little in the final analysis because it had broken the stalemate that paralysed the incumbent Parliament since its inception impeding its ability to undertake its basic responsibility. Arguably, agreeing to the appointment of Opposition leader as the Chairman of (PAC) was a positive U-Turn for the better as aptly described by the former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and former Speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq while addressing the House after the foreign minister disclosed the decision of the government on the floor of the House.

It would be unfair if the extraordinary role of the incumbent Speaker of the National Assembly, Asad Qaisar, was not appreciated that legitimately drew felicitations from the both sides of the political divide for bringing around convincing the top leadership that had earlier taken strong position to the contrary.

Unfortunately, the government side was adamant not to endorse the appointment of Opposition leader as chairman (PAC) by putting forward the argument that as how the Opposition leader as chairman of (PAC) would audit the invalid public expenditures with requisite honesty those were incurred during the time of PML (N) government. The Opposition parties were equally determined that the leader of the Opposition must be the chairman of (PAC) as per the previous practice during the tenure of previous two elected parliaments. The good and forward looking thinking ultimately prevailed upon the government side that took so much time for this at a time when the political consensus was the dire need of the country to extricate it out of the political and economic mess of alarming proportion. The infighting along with mud-slinging in full glare of media between the treasury benches and the Opposition had been poignantly sprawling despondency among the people with the resultant melancholy of ill-aboding-- better days are a far-fetched cry. The parliamentary dexterity of the government was also at stake in particular for not recognising the imperatives of the functioning democracy by eschewing away the role of Opposition in a democratic dispensation.

The PTI top leadership may take page from the parliamentary experiences of the PPP government led by Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani during which the government party always took the Opposition on board on almost all the legislative business undertaken by the then Parliament. The performance of the Parliament was exemplary as it unanimously passed the historic 18th Amendment in the Constitution restoring the Constitution of 1973 in its original form, Seventh National Finance Award, naming of KPK again with consensus including other host of landmark legislations for the mainstreaming of the minorities and the women folk. Such exceptional performance of the Parliament could not be imagined in the wildest imagination if the PPP had not taken the Opposition along with sincerity in the whole process of law making. It is a matter of impeccable record that the PPP then tabled 139 bills in the Parliament after consultation with the Opposition parties during the five years, and about 98% bills were adopted with consensus. No one would disagree that it was not a win win situation for the government and Opposition benches as the performance of the Parliament was outstanding by any stretch of imagination. The PTI government may reconsider its strategy and seek the cooperation of the Opposition to make up the parliamentary losses inflicted during the past four months. Also avoid reinforcing the failed politics practices based on narrative of schandenfredu, adversary losses are my gains.

The minister information in his media talk last week conceded that the government had to give in to the Opposition’s demand of appointing Opposition leader as the chairman of the (PAC) ‘under pressure’ notwithstanding of its mismatch with the logic—judge and jury. He may realise that the ‘pressure’ was hailed by all in the news and views and therefore should be taken as such. There was no single comment against government’s decision in accepting the demand of the Opposition. It rather enhanced the political capital of the government. It may be mentioned here that politics is not totally a ballgame of logic as propounded by the chief spokesman of the government. It can be put in the periphery for the convenience of the practical politics within the parameters of art of possible destined to ensure continuity and to avoid possible disruptions in the political process riddled with unforgiving insinuations.

Understandably, the reported agreement between the government and Opposition substantially reduce the role of the Opposition leader as chairman (PAC) pertaining to the audit objections of the PML (N) government. It clearly suggested the apprehensions on account of perceived logical dimensions had also been taken care of besides making it acceptable to the treasury benches. Parliament and the lawmakers all hues indeed succeeded at the expense of the naysayers.

The minister of information should have taken the credit for accepting the demand of the Opposition in good stride keeping in view the largest interest of democracy by making the Parliament as its hotbed. His taking the decision with pinch of salt by asserting as a result of pressure, or questioning its validity on logical basis, was essentially incoherent. Undoubtedly, the PTI top leadership had surely earned good will of the people by acquiescing to the demand of the Opposition reflecting its soft corner for the functioning democracy. The despotic mindset would have not hesitated in rocking the ship altogether.

The necessity of damage control decision by the government, akin to back from the brink, should have not arisen in the first place if they had holistic understanding of the criticality of the role of the Opposition in a democratic set up that could not be wished away no matter how big majority the government had in the Parliament. Notwithstanding Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s perceived parochial pronged endeavours to get more than a due share in the cabinets of successive governments, but his observation that it is easy to form government but impossible to run the it without the cooperation of the Opposition holds the all-out truth in the functioning of democracy whether established or otherwise. This pre-requisite for parliamentary democracy was sadly being disregarded by the PTI government during the initial months considering it as distractions to hurt the momentum of its reforms agenda. Ironically, the prime minister in his recent meeting with TV anchorpersons while responding to a question asserted that he would run the government through the Presidential Ordinances if the Opposition did not cooperate in the Parliament. This tone of the prime minister offended the Opposition with obvious negative prognosis pushing the Parliament away from getting down to the business of the law making. Hopefully, the situation may change for the better after the recent development.

Prime minister’s above referred assertion may not be appreciated as it presumably reflects his aversion to the Parliament that has not dissipated even after his coming to power. It may be recalled that the main political parties, PPP and the PML (N), demonstrated the highest level of maturity and commitment to democracy when they had decided to become the part of the incumbent Parliament despite their serious reservations on the credibility and impartiality of the elections. They not only resisted the pressure of the rightest religious parties to boycott the Parliament but also successfully convinced them to follow the suit for the sake of the continuity of democracy as boycott might inflict irreparable damage to democracy and indeed to the federation. The enabling role of the Opposition to generate requisite momentum at the outset should have been appreciated by the PTI considering it as first good step to navigate the five–year arduous parliamentary journey. The treasury benches should have capitalised on it instead of resorting to screaming their lungs out shouting at Opposition leaders as criminal lot that deserved to be sent to jail. How unfortunate indeed?

Democracy functions and delivers at the optimum level when government and Opposition accept the indispensability of the role each other.