Partisanship in the National Assembly hit record highs, or should we say lows, as budget books flew across the hall while members from both benches directed verbal and physical attacks at each other during Tuesday's session. In an earlier session, PML-N women MNAs appeared to breach protocol by standing behind the treasury benches with anti-government placards. The point, apparently, was to ensure that they appeared on screen when Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin gave his speech. However, they remained quiet, even after PTI's women MNAs first called them out and then confronted them to try and get them to move. That is not to say that the Opposition was well behaved, as several members chanted anti-government slogans, some of which could be construed as personal attacks.
Tuesday, however, saw PTI MNAs literally using whistles to disrupt Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif's speech, before PM's Adviser Ali Nawaz Awan upped the ante by using unprintable language and hurling budget books at opposition members. By the end of the day, not a single PTI member, let alone senior leadership, had condemned Awan's language or actions. Instead, they, and Awan, accused the Opposition of instigating the attack.
But here's the thing. The crass language used by Opposition members, while an insult to Parliament, was still printable. They called the government donkeys, dogs, and cats. On the other hand, Awan used language that could lead to criminal charges if repeated on-air or in print. He then started the physical altercation by throwing a budget book, which was promptly thrown back at him. And while PTI members accused the Opposition of also using expletives, it was not audible in any of the videos doing the rounds on social media.
Also, we would expect at least the government — whoever occupies the treasury benches — if not the whole House, would uphold some smattering of decorum. But instead, even federal ministers were actively joining in the fracas. Communications Minister Murad Saeed was among those caught on camera disgracing the House. With such behaviour on display during an all-important budget session, many citizens are rightly concerned by whether this National Assembly is even capable of legislating. It's not as if there haven't been heated rivalries in the parliament before; but nothing like this ever.
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