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June 17, 2021

Disorder in the house

 
June 17, 2021

With seven lawmakers barred from entering Parliament House as per an order by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser – who has said the lawmakers behaved in a way that was “grossly disorderly” – it is tempting to think this matter is over. However, the fact is that on Tuesday (and then on Wednesday again, in a somewhat limited fashion) the sanctity of parliament was violated by the rumpus in the National Assembly – and this speaks to a far deeper issue. The mayhem was not merely a game of accusations and shouting, it was almost a free for all fracas – complete with flying budget books, filthy language, fisticuffs. Needless to say, it was a disturbing sight, and one wonders at how much hope there can be for law and order or civilised behaviour in a country whose lawmakers can’t control their baser instincts. The chaos – which saw a very vocal treasury bench disrupting NA proceedings – broke out at the start of opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif’s attempt to speak for a second day. As a result, the general debate on Budget 2021-22 could not proceed in a democratic and parliamentary manner. Wednesday saw similar ruckus – despite the suspension of the seven lawmakers – and the budget session was eventually adjourned.

True, the ‘august’ House that is the National Assembly is no stranger to unruly behaviour by parliamentarians. However, Tuesday’s scenes of chaos and the videos of misogynist language used a few days before take this to a new level – one that is and should be totally unacceptable. In a country where women are already discriminated against, to see a lawmakers heckle an opposition leader using targeted misogynist language is disappointing – and dangerous. Surely, there is nothing ‘august’ left in the House when this happens.

Political parties, in particular the ruling party, must realize that paralyzing parliament is not in anyone’s benefit. Social media videos have been shared across the board and, quite obviously, judging from comments and remarks, people’s perception of parliamentary politics and democracy in general has fallen even lower. This is not welcome in a country trying to establish a strong tradition of democracy. Something has to be done to restore respect for our highest institution of lawmaking and to show that its members are capable of maintaining law, decorum and proper conduct themselves, thereby setting an example for others. The first step could be the prime minister making an attempt to reach across the aisle and show to the people of the country that parliamentary debate is a healthy part of democracy and can take place without books being thrown at each other or stooping to the most vile of sexist abuse and language.