I have been covering National Assembly proceedings since 1985. And not for once I found a government so recklessly casual and indifferent when it comes to managing spirited discussion on its budgetary proposals for a financial year.
The house proceedings were scheduled to begin at 5pm Tuesday evening. Until 6:20, however, the ruling party and its allies remained huddled in a committee room. Only after talking to some reliable participants of the said meeting, I discovered that their sitting together was not focused to brainstorm for a strategy.
Most of the time was rather wasted in vending suggestion that could make the next year budget to look more and more ‘people friendly.’ It is a different matter that while presenting such suggestions, most legislators essentially wanted to please their immediate constituents.
After much waiting, the prime minister eventually entered the hall at around 6:30. Rehman Malik walked in along with him with a visibly puffed up chest. The ruling benches welcomed both of them with loud desk thumping. Doing so, government MNAs simply looked behaving like cheerleaders of competing teams in wrestling matches. The obvious idea was to convey it to the apex court that its decisions could not make or break a minister. Malik’s membership of the Senate remains suspended for sure, but he continues to head the ministry of interior; now as an advisor to the prime minister. “What next?”
The PML-N was equally pathetic while putting up a defiant show. In another committee room of the Parliament House, they had been waiting for the prime minister to enter the house and take his chair. Only after his settling down, they decided to walk in like a slogan-chanting crowd of compulsive agitators.
Farooq Sattar of the MQM, meanwhile, had been given the floor to speak on budgetary proposals. He clearly told the deputy speaker that he would not be able to deliver his speech unless the house was ‘put in order.’ Kundi kept begging with pleas of order-order, but crowded before the prime minister’s bench the PML-N continued with ear-piercing shouting of slogans that directly targeted “the person convicted by the Supreme Court.” Not many members were present on the ruling benches. Even the few who were around did not make any attempt to protect their leader through a diversionary move. The PML-N crowd had all the time to put up its noisy show without any interruption. Finally, Makhdom Shahbuddin realised that by asking the permission to ‘speak on the budget’, he could divert the attention and Kundi took no time to recognise him from the chair. The PML-N indeed appeared to have hijacked the initiative. But they could only get away with it for the rudderless conduct of the treasury benches.
Dispassionately speaking, the PML-N conduct in the National Assembly on Tuesday rather smacked of schizophrenic fits. Only the other day, Ahsan Iqbal delivered a yawn-inducing speech in the name of elaborating his party’s position on budgetary proposals. His posturing clearly suggested that during each day of the general discussion one of the hawkish and forceful members of the PML-N would deliver a speech before leading the slogan-chanting crowd of the PML-N out of the house. But the tactic employed by the PML-N on Monday forced many observers to suspect as if some kind of a deal had finally been struck between the saner elements from sides of the house and from now on we might be witnessing relatively more regulated business there. This feeling must have made those PML-N hawks uncomfortable who hate the idea of being tagged as ‘the friendly opposition’. They tried to get out of the ‘friendly’ pigeonholing by staging rowdy scenes during the National Assembly proceedings of Tuesday.
The constant jumping from one extreme to another by the PML-N hawks is forcing second thoughts on the PPP hawks. Reliable sources from their camp revealed to me that after waiting and watching for two more days and after lengthy but discreet meetings with the PML-N leaders, the government may decide to finish the tediously long ropes of budget-passing by June 15. The intended haste will deprive the PML-N of any chances of discussing the performance of important ministries by pushing cut motions – a possibility that established oppositions in parliamentary democracies hate to suffer. I have also been told that before taking the final decision, the government will also wait for the message that one of its most trusted but ‘apolitical’ emissaries is expected to bring back after having a lengthy one-on-one with Nawaz Sharif in Dubai. The said meeting was first scheduled for Monday evening. The messy rescheduling of the PIA flights delayed it for a day, however.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2012.
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