Has Parliament turned into a “Madhouse”?


In recent times, the halls of Parliament have become a theatre of chaos and partisanship, raising serious concerns for our nation. The role of the Speaker, once revered as a guardian of democracy, has come under intense scrutiny amidst accusations of partiality and abuse of power. The fragile balance between government and opposition has been disrupted, leading to unprecedented clashes and a breakdown of parliamentary decorum.

The Speaker, entrusted with the responsibility of upholding the sanctity of parliamentary proceedings, has been accused of favouritism towards the ruling party. This bias becomes evident when the Speaker appears to shield government benches from scrutiny, particularly when faced with probing questions from the opposition. The perceived abuse of power reaches its zenith when Parliamentary Questions (PQs) from opposition MPs are deemed unreceivable, and a vociferous attitude leading to record numbers of suspensions and actions disproportionate to any alleged wrongdoing.

In an earlier showdown in Parliament involving the Speaker and Hon Rajesh Bhagwan, the latter was disparaged due to his skin condition. The latest showdown, once again involving the Speaker and Hon Bhagwan, has descended to a level that Mauritians in general could not have imagined possible in our erstwhile august Assembly.

Parliament, as the cornerstone of our democracy, serves multiple vital functions, including representation, legislation, and oversight. However, its ability to fulfil these roles has been severely compromised by internal strife and dysfunction. The primary duty of Parliament is to hold the government accountable, ensuring transparency and accountability in governance. Yet, the turmoil seen so often in the Assembly has hindered the effective functioning of this crucial democratic institution.

The rules and procedures that govern parliamentary proceedings are designed to ensure order and fairness. However, the failure to uphold these rules, particularly by the Speaker, undermines the very foundation of our democracy. In the Westminster system, the Speaker is tasked with safeguarding the rights of minority opposition members, ensuring their voices are heard and respected. At the end of the day, government by virtue of its majority, will have its way, but the Opposition needs to have ample room to have its say and in most respected Westminsterian democracies, the Speaker usually bends over backwards to make sure that happens. Unfortunately, this fundamental principle has been neglected, leaving opposition MPs marginalized and their concerns dismissed.

In a thought-provoking contribution, Lex argued that the Standing Orders cannot be allowed to infringe upon democratic principles. The late Justice Lallah’s ruling in the case of Attorney General against Navin Ramgoolam emphasized the importance of judicial oversight in ensuring the proper exercise of parliamentary powers. It is imperative that the judiciary plays its role in upholding the rule of law and preventing the abuse of parliamentary authority. Judicial cases entered against abuses by the Speaker have yet to be determined and it is a matter of concern when such cases linger on indefinitely without resolution. We dare believe that the Indian Supreme Court would have heard and pronounced itself on such pleas within weeks.

A self-respecting National Assembly, rooted in the British parliamentary tradition, must uphold the principles of democracy and good governance. The failure to do so not only undermines the credibility of our democratic institutions but also erodes public trust in the political process. The number of unanswered questions lingering over the past years serve as a stark reminder of the need for accountability and transparency in government.

As the leader of the House and the nominator of the Speaker, the Prime Minister bears a significant responsibility for the current state of affairs. It is incumbent upon the tandem to prioritize the dignity, decorum, and governance issues of our democratic state over narrow partisan interests. One would like to say that it’s only through decisive action and a commitment to upholding democratic principles that we can restore faith in our parliamentary system and rebuild trust in our democracy. But that may be too tall an order for the current dispensation.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 19 April 2024

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