When a child says he is bored in class and refuses to go to school, few parents would allow him to stay at home.
But what happens when Imran Khan won’t attend parliamentary sessions because he believes that the “National Assembly is the most boring place on earth”, and “The house is meaningless”? These were the views he expressed in an interview in last month’s Herald magazine.
When asked about his poor attendance record as documented by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, his reply was equally superficial: “Performing in the National Assembly is like winning a poker game on the Titanic. The ship is going down, but you are winning your cards.”
Imran thinks the NA is the “most boring place on earth”.
The PTI leader has often expressed his admiration for British parliamentary democracy. But perhaps he is unaware that just as in our assembly, sessions in the House of Commons are often dull, and attendance can be sparse.
But if an MP were to say openly that he was bored by the proceedings, he would be attacked in the media — as well as in his constituency — and asked to resign if he couldn’t do his job. MPs in Britain, in addition to attending parliamentary sessions, are required to meet voters in their constituencies who have problems relating to government departments.
If a student doesn’t go to school or college, he is rusticated unless he has a very good reason for his absence. And if an employee doesn’t go to work, he is sacked. Our assemblies must be the only institutions that go on paying members even if they don’t turn up for months.
But is it honourable to continue collecting pay cheques and perks even if you deny the relevance of the system? After all, PTI has the third biggest bloc of seats in the National Assembly; through its refusal to play the role of an opposition, the party gives the government an easy ride.
Indeed, Imran Khan prefers to oppose the government in the streets, in TV chat shows and in the courts. How much more exciting to address large, adoring crowds from a stage than to be bound by rules and procedures in parliament. Here, members have to read reports, listen to one another, and not just abuse rivals, unbound by time limits and the speaker’s rulings.
The other thing parliament imposes — in theory, at least — is discipline on members who are subject to rules as well as the directives of the party leadership. These are not things that come easily to Imran Khan who is more used to giving orders than receiving them.
But to be fair, the ruling party’s record on parliamentary attendance is not much better. The prime minister is seldom seen in the house, and his party often struggles to meet the quorum call even when important legislation is being debated. One reason might be that in the absence of any meaningful opposition, the ruling party is under no pressure to attend.
The other thing parliament teaches is to listen to criticism, and to tolerate opposing points of view. Then there is the need to cooperate with members from other parties to amend or pass laws. Compromise and give-and-take are at the heart of the parliamentary system. None of these are skills Imran Khan has demonstrated thus far.
When asked by his Herald interviewer if he was aware of the risks of his extreme, no-holds-barred approach to politics, Imran Khan is quoted as replying: “Of course, I am aware. I only play a high-stakes game. Low stakes bore me.”
The implications of this tendency in a politician aspiring to become prime minister are chilling. Gambling is addictive, and those hooked on games of chance tend to raise the stakes when they are losing in the hope that they will recoup their losses with one throw of the dice. More often than not, they lose and raise the ante yet again until they are cleaned out.
This is part of the pattern for Imran Khan: each time he attempts a short cut to the Prime Minister’s House and is thwarted, he tries more extreme measures. Thus, when his months-long dharna didn’t work in 2014, he raised the stakes by threatening a lockdown of Islamabad. He lost again, and he’s now in the Supreme Court to try his luck once more.
A stepdaughter of mine was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as a child, and I remember she was disruptive in class due to her inability to focus, until she was put on Ritalin. Although the condition occasionally persists into adulthood, my stepdaughter has fortunately outgrown it.
I am not suggesting for a moment that Imran Khan has the same condition. But if he ever becomes our prime minister, I’m willing to pay for the Ritalin.