At first glance, the agreement between the government and major opposition parties regarding the budget sessions in the parliament makes sense. The behind-the-scenes agreement, which provides the government with a virtual walkover for the budget sessions, allowing voting only to be conducted on the demands for the grants and final passage of the finance bill, appears to be justified in the context of the alarming situation which we find ourselves in today. As the coronavirus epidemic reaches its peak in Pakistan, and the swarm of locusts poses an enormous economic threat, it is easy to see why there would be pressure to hurriedly allow the finance bill to pass without hurdles. It is also easy to justify limiting attendance of members on the basis that the pandemic requires social distancing, although it is ironic that this social distancing is rarely being practised in any other sectors.

Yet while laws and regulations should be adjusted for the times, they must never be done so in a way that impedes the democratic process. These social distancing guidelines and a speedy passing of the financial bill could be achieved without effectively removing any challenges to it. The presentation of the budget and voting on symbolic cut motions are considered to be the most important business of the parliament: the removal of voting on cut motions would eliminate many important criticisms and improvements that could be made on the budget. Considering that the budget is the most important legislation that the parliament passes, reducing the process of raising challenges to it is undemocratic and will be detrimental to the financial bill itself, which will lose the valuable opportunity of being improved and perfected.

The situation is a reflection of the inefficiency of currently opposing political parties in Pakistan, which only have two gears; go hard and fight as if they are mortal enemies or provide complete walkovers to the sitting government. Opposition parties need to learn how to provide valuable contributions in the form of criticism and challenges – personal attacks and outright collusion aren’t the only options.