July issue 2009

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 15 years ago

Why do politicians bother to stand for elections to the national and provincial assemblies, when they are not even interested in attending the assembly sessions once they are elected?

According to newspaper reports, several MNAs stayed away from the National Assembly when the federal budget was being announced last month. Obviously, the budget, which is a key issue with the masses, is not a priority with the elected representatives of the masses. However, if a session pertaining to increases in their perks and privileges were to be convened tomorrow, there would be a mad scramble to attend. And the increases would be rushed through without any debate.

Why, we’ve seen legislators of past assemblies do precisely that, without any sense of shame. In fact, we’ve even witnessed a Senate chairman attempt to push a package of goodies for himself through the Senate when he was caretaker prime minister.

The poor attendance of MNAs and MPAs in assembly proceedings has always been a sore point. The parliamentarians who absent themselves are generally to be found relaxing in the cool comfort of their chambers. And some go even one better than that: they operate from foreign shores. Their seats in the assemblies lie vacant through most of the year as they are settled abroad and touch base every once in a while. Who looks after their constituencies and what happens to the development budget at their disposal could make for an interesting story.

However, attendance is not the only issue that plagues the current assemblies. The conduct of parliamentarians has become rather unbecoming of late. Within the last four weeks or so, ugly encounters have taken place both inside and outside the house.

In the first instance, women MPAs from the PPP and the PML-Q traded insults (Sample: “Shut up, you plunderers”) and literally came to blows in the Punjab Assembly over the issue of celebrating Ms Bhutto’s birthday and erecting a memorial in Lahore. In the second instance, once again in the Punjab Assembly, a ruling party member, who is also a minister for prisons, virtually assaulted a woman MPA from the PML-Q for criticising the Punjab chief minister. What ensued was a free-for-all. Booklets of the provincial budget were hurled by supporters of both sides at each other.

Whatever happened to the good old tradition of debate in parliament?

It appears as if the assemblies have been reduced to akharas or wrestling rings, where the parliamentarians flex their muscles, kick and punch, and hurl abuses at their opponents to settle issues or scores.

Welcome to the days of Maula Jatt!

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.