Parliamentary discourse is necessary. In fact, a properly functioning democracy requires a significant degree of disagreement between opposing parties or ideologies in order to thrive. However, the recent scuffles of the National Assembly have been anything but that.
Beyond being utterly unbecoming, the fights show other worrying trends – that of a fragile democracy in which politicians lack a deep understanding of what democracy actually entails. It is more than just the voting at the ballot box. In fact, on a basic level democracy starts with you, dear parliamentarians.
We all occasionally need a jolt to refresh our memories of what our responsibilities are – when, perhaps, the only obvious memory of a parliamentarian is the privileges and power they hold. After the essential exercise of voting, our democratic process is activated through you and your representation of us. You are elected representatives symbolising democracy and upholding the institution that most represents democracy in action, parliament. We look to you to scrutinise government policy and to pass sensible laws that will positively affect us. We wait for you to set the example through your collective and individual leadership that rises above petty squabbles and disagreements, to represent us.
Honesty, integrity and objectivity are qualities we expect as basic requirements of those that occupy the House. Your conduct in the House resonates as the first live action of democracy. And for these reasons your responsibilities are more important than your privileges.
The latest incident between PTI and PML-N elected representatives has left us disappointed but not surprised. This incident is not the first. Other incidents have included comments made by male elected members against their female colleagues and male members of the National Assembly from opposing parties having physical fights on the floor of the House. All insults hurled either at women or between men have a disturbing trend — that of using sexists and misogynist remarks against a fellow parliamentarian directly or against the women of a male parliamentarian, to be the ultimate insult. But the code should be clear. No sexist remarks, no misogynist undertones, no derogatory comments towards women, neither explicit nor implied that may even remotely imply sexism.
The only thing loud about the recent incident was the silence of prominent female figures, including the silence of the first daughter. On such occasions, principles and ethics are more important than party politics. Or one would think? With the number of turncoats we have seen in parliament, one would think it would be easy to condemn a wrong act regardless of which party they belong to. Obviously, changing political affinities is far easier.
Parliamentary behaviour is no different from how we operate in everyday life. Broadcast media has found a way of making sure their ratings stay up. Call two politicians from differing parties, throw in a question and let them do the work for you.
Dear parliamentarians, stand apart. You are not populist figures, with short-term vision and unregulated airtime. The office you hold demands more of you. It is a lack of foresight and personal interests from the ruling elite that hinders the enabling of accountable representatives. The well-known secret, dear parliamentarians, is that accountable and professional representatives will ensure Parliamentary functions as it should, which in turn will support a more inclusive and tolerant society.
If our aim is be truly democratic, then a questioning electorate should in turn produce, through the ballot box, more sophisticated representatives of the voting citizen – more sophisticated in intellect and more sincere in conduct. Judging by the recent incidents we are far from understanding that democracy is beyond votes and the ballot box.
Bring it to life, dear parliamentarians. Democracy does truly start with you.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2017.