The partisan custodian of a divided house

The partisan custodian of a divided house

I know my job very well.”

“Don’t dictate to me.”

“Let me run the house.”

“Please read the rules and regulations first before challenging me.”

“Don’t teach me the rules.”

Such utterances are common when National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq is in charge.

Twice elected as the guardian of the lower house of parliament, Mr Sadiq is not seen at his best when he is in the speaker’s chair. He was first elected speaker immediately after the 2013 election, and then after the election tribunal de-seated him in response to a PTI petition and he contested NA 122 again and was re-elected to the assembly.

When he first took over as speaker, many had expected him to do a good job considering that he was returning to parliament for the third time and had sufficient experience of the assembly. He had also served on a number of standing committees, as well as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Despite this, sadly, Mr Sadiq has proved to be a disappointment as a speaker.

Just this week, his bias in favour of the ruling party was on display when he took some time before expunging the ugly remarks made by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif against PTI’s chief whip, Dr Shireen Mazari.

It took a vociferous protest from the opposition before the speaker expunged the remarks; initially, he tried to justify Mr Asif’s words by arguing that the opposition provoked the minister by interrupting his speech.

“Had the speaker handled it better, the showdown could have been avoided. But instead, Mr Sadiq let the situation get out of hand when he didn’t immediately reprimand Mr Asif for his offensive remarks,” said Shafqat Mehmood, a PTI MNA from Lahore.

A PML-N lawmaker also blamed the speaker for creating the crisis. However, the legislator did not want to reveal his identity.

Undoubtedly, Mr Sadiq belongs to the PML-N. But once elected speaker, he needs to be seen as rising above party lines.

And it is not just his reluctance in reprimanding PML-N’s senior lawmakers that has many viewing him as a poor custodian of the house.

For example, the incumbent National Assembly has probably set a record for the frequency with which its lack of quorum is pointed out. Hardly any session has passed without some one or the other pointing out the thin attendance and how it’s less than what is mandated. To keep the house running, at least 86 members are supposed to be present inside the assembly hall.

“Under the rules, it’s the ruling party or treasury benches’ job to maintain the required attendance, but eventually the speaker, as the guardian of the house, has to get involved,” remarked a retired official of the National Assembly.

Explaining further, the official who has worked in various branches of the National Assembly for 30 years, said the speaker would traditionally develop a rapport with the parliamentary heads of opposition parties who would then help maintain attendance.

Mr Sadiq doesn’t seem to have taken any such steps.

No wonder then that in November last year, during a sitting of the National Assembly, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, a government ally had grumbled that, “If the Senate chairman across the hall can run the house in an orderly and efficient manner, why can’t the National Assembly speaker do the same? [Delays in the] beginning of National Assembly proceedings have become routine, rendering this house completely redundant.”

There are other examples of his ‘poor’ performance. For instance, the speaker’s office has also been criticised for regularly killing adjournment motions. As many as 500 adjournment motions, says Sarwar Khan of the PTI, were submitted to the speaker’s office to be taken up for discussion; however, Khan says all 500 were consigned to the trash can.

An adjournment motion is moved by legislators to speak on an issue of urgent importance.

The speaker’s office, however, claims that parliamentarians could use a point of order to express their views and as a result they didn’t need an adjournment motion.

However, for a senior PML-N office minister, such criticism of the speaker is unwarranted.

He points out that Mr Sadiq has been questioned incessantly by the PTI, which has called into question his presence in the parliament to begin with (the PTI argued that Ayaz Sadiq had won his election through rigging) and got him de-seated through the election tribunal.

“He has faced unprecedented attacks and instability; you can’t compare him to his predecessors. The PTI made him controversial, even though he tried to behave impartially,” the minister explained.


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