Institutional crisis: Parliamentary democracy or dictatorship?

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Screenshot of the parliamentary sitting on April 11, 2017.

Of all the Speakers of our Legislature Assembly since independence in 1968, Maya Hanoomanjee is the most contested for various reasons. Traditionally, the Speaker of the House is accorded solemn respect by the public and by all members of the House from both sides. To win this respect, he/she must himself/ herself respect all the standing orders inscribed in Erskine May’s Standing Orders (the Bible of Parliamentarians).

The Parliament is said to be the temple of democracy from where emanate laws of the country. Our Honourable members become the legislators. It is one of the pillars of democracy. The Chair must, against all odds, be impartial and must treat all members alike. The day when he/she is elected to this constitutional post, he/ she must throw away his/her political garb and bears no more allegiance to his/her former party.

He/she must show neutrality and the function of the Chair is to hold power to account and must never sour his/her relationship with the press. At no time he/she must show pugnacity or be hysterical vis-à-vis members of Parliament. He/she must be calm, sober and tactful. Otherwise, he/ she will be ill-suited to the post and disqualified.

Parliament will be converted into a pandemonium or an arena where gladiators will be aggressive and ready for the kill. Nay alas, this is not the place for confrontation! It must be a forum of ideas where members can engage in a battle of wits and where they can show their high intellectual capacity and brightness and oratorical skill. It should be a place where our Honourable members can sharpen their wit and decide on the destiny of the country.

It must never be a place of invectives, insults and sneers. Otherwise, the Parliament will lose its dignity, decorum and respect. Everything is in the hands of the Speaker. He/she must rise to the challenge of being a skilled administrator, diplomat and media personality. He/she must command respect of the House and his/her stentorian  voice must bring order in the House, reminding us of Betty Boothroyd the first only woman Speaker of the House of Commons. A sense of humour is a disarming tool to ease tension and this is very important characteristic which a Speaker must treasure in his/ her possessions.

At no time he/she must fan the debate to its highest pitch. He/she must bring down the tone of the debate. We cannot abstain from reminiscencing the good old days of sir Harilal Vaghjee. The latter was an exemplary Speaker with an iron hand but in a velvet glove. He had the gut to order sir Seewoosagur bluntly to sit down plainly in the heat of debate.

A speaker must be fleetfooted able to garb any spur-of-moment decision. At no time he/she must be biased and shows deafness or blindness to one side of the House. The root of our problem is that a defeated candidate is chosen to be the Speaker of the House. How can she expel someone who has been duly elected by the population when she herself was not elected? This is the crux of the problem. So long as this continues we cannot call it parliamentary democracy.

The leader of MMM has dubbed it as parliamentary dictatorship. Last Friday was a day of mourning for our democracy when we witnessed live on TV the degradation in the standard of the debate in our Parliament supposedly the seat of our democracy. As a constitutional lawyer I was expecting much higher level of arguments but my thirst for a good debate turned out sour. Never in the history of our Parliament has the level come so low.

A deputy Speaker hardly appointed to his post was asked to conduct an important motion against the Speaker of the House. He put an end to the exciting debate by expelling some members. The match was prematurely put to an end. Is it not a mockery of democracy? History will judge.

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