Non-parliamentary politics – Journal – DAWN.COM
OVER the past few weeks, the National Assembly has been the scene of war cries between deputies, exchanges of insults and copies of the budget which have been thrown at each other. A truce was eventually struck between the government and the opposition only to be broken a few days later when some lawmakers again reverted to improper conduct.
This sparked considerable debate on television and commentary on social media. Much of it has taken on a partisan character. It has been said that this is not the first time that Parliament has seen such noise and chaos. Examples were cited from the past as well as from brawls in legislatures in other countries. But that was missing the point. The uncivil behavior of the past does not make it more acceptable today. The collapse of standards and civility elsewhere doesn’t mean it’s okay to repeat the same conduct here, either.
Deputies have a responsibility to the people who elected them; do the job their constituents sent them to the Legislature for. They also have a responsibility to the taxpayers of the country. After all, it is taxpayers’ money that pays their wages and the many benefits they enjoy. Therefore, they also have a responsibility to the country, not just to their political constituency.
Of course, it is the growing political polarization in the country that often leads to unparliamentary behavior. The frantic and intemperate language used by many deputies reflects this as well as the dominant political culture which considers the ethics of war – to subdue “the enemy” – rather than the ethics of competition as their “principle”. director. This rules out efforts to engage rivals or show them respect.
The improper conduct of members of the National Assembly has political costs for all parties.
What gets lost in this deeply polarized environment is the obligation to work Parliament in the public interest. If the role of parliament is to legislate, debate and inform, then disorderly behavior amounts to dereliction of duty and responsibility. Political leaders and members of the assemblies keep declaring their attachment to the supremacy of parliament, but these claims ring hollow from those who engage in rowdy behavior on the floor of the House.
The Senate has shown more sobriety in the conduct of its work. Debates in the upper chamber are often substantive. Several members of the National Assembly were also diligent in their work and acted with dignity. But the behavior of some of their colleagues in the Lower House has been anything but civil.
It is the majority party which sets the substance and the tone of parliamentary activity. Thus, his attitude is fundamental for the proper functioning – and peaceful – of the Assembly. But if the Treasury Banks and their leaders view everyone on the opposition benches as venal politicians who should be in jail rather than Parliament, it creates a busy environment. It also avoids efforts to generate the cooperation necessary for the performance of the actual functions of parliament.
Moreover, if the ruling party sees parliament as a mere means of keeping the government in power rather than as an instrument of governance, this has an impact on the functioning of parliament. Its role as a forum to initiate and shape laws, articulate and debate policies is diminished. When the House leader barely comes to Parliament, it not only indicates a lack of interest, but also sets an example for high-ranking ministers not to attend the Assembly regularly.
The drafting of laws by executive decree also marginalizes the role of parliament. The PTI government relied more on the promulgation of ordinances for its legislative program than on legislation by parliament. It may follow an inglorious tradition, but it has now broken the record of two predecessor governments for ordinances, according to an assessment by Pildat. The great value of parliamentary debate is that it mobilizes consensus, builds the legitimacy of government actions and galvanizes support for its policies. The making of laws by ordinance deprives the government of these benefits and prevents wider ownership of laws that are enacted in this way or hastily submitted by parliament without discussion.
The opposition also has an obligation to participate seriously in parliamentary work. But the main opposition parties did not engage in a sustained or coherent manner in the Assembly. They have often oscillated between boycotts, walkouts, disruptive actions and even threats of resignation. The opposition should use parliament as a forum to articulate policy alternatives and present solutions to national problems in addition to subjecting government measures to critical scrutiny. Regardless of how the treasury banks act, members of the opposition can take the initiative by proposing laws, launching debate on key issues, and vigorously exercise the oversight function of the actions of the executive.
Occasionally this has happened, but not often enough. Significantly, women lawmakers on both sides of the aisle made a greater contribution in terms of agenda setting and participation, according to a recent Fafen report. Some NA committees also took their role seriously, often because of the interest and activism of individual members rather than direction from their party.
There is another reason for the diminished role of parliament as a chamber of debate. 24/7 television news channels with their proliferation of talk shows have increasingly become the main platform for political debate. Appearance on television gives instant and high visibility and therefore takes priority over participation in the Assembly by most political leaders. This affects the deliberative role of parliament. Media engagement is of course essential in politics today, but that should not mean that lawmakers treat television appearances as a substitute for parliamentary office.
It is the inappropriate behavior observed recently – not for the first time – that is the least edifying aspect of the participation of many members of parliament. This entails political costs for all parties. While members indulging in this may think it works for their political base and arguably pleases their leaders, it does nothing to gain the respect of the general public. The conduct of parliamentarians is important and improper conduct affects how they are viewed by people. On the contrary, it generates public disillusion and brings Parliament into disrepute. Not only is the credibility of the lower house eroded, but democracy is also degraded.
The writer is a former ambassador to the United States, the United Kingdom and the UN.
Posted in Dawn, le 28 June 2021