People sometimes say that they want a 'national unity government, implying that it is better than a government with an opposition in the countrys elected Parliament. However, this is built on a misunderstanding of how the political system is supposed to work. We need a majority which rules, and a minority which plays its role in opposition. Both groups have essential roles to play. The majority cannot do a good job without an active opposition. And the opposition cannot prepare itself for a future role in position, after a later election or if the government is voted down, unless it learns from its work in opposition. This is not well understood in semi-democratic countries, not even by the parliamentarians themselves. The politicians in power fear the opposition. They often want to eliminate it, claiming that it is disloyal and obstructive in all kinds of ways, not realising that its role is also essential. When totalitarian governments collapse, and we have just seen an example in Egypt, there is no opposition that can take over, prepared for the role of ruling, based on alternative, responsible policies. Therefore, the army comes in, but the officers and the soldiers are not politicians. In this article, I shall try to explain some key issues pertaining to the parliamentary system, and the importance of having an opposition and dissidence in Parliament and in the civil society. If major opposition parties are not allowed to take part in the general elections, they are accordingly not going to get seats in Parliament, and the few opposition representatives that may get elected, would be close to the ruling party. They would be unable to perform their role, as real opposition representatives. The parliamentary system is based on the principle that the larger group in Parliament, the winner of a general election, consisting of one or more political parties, forms the government, with the other party or parties being in opposition. In the British tradition - a model for most countries - the backbenchers formalise their roles and form a 'shadow Cabinet, training for and being ready to take over at any given time, if the majority in Parliament changes or if a minority government has to step in, if the government loses confidence in one or several important cases. During a parliamentary period, such occasions usually only happen, if the government (Cabinet) is formed as a coalition government, consisting of several political parties, not just one party. In rare cases, it could also happen that some members of a party disagree so strongly with the majority of their own party that they create a splinter group and leave the party altogether, usually to create a separate party or, join another party welcoming their views. In my home country Norway, for example, we had such a situation in the early 1960s when a more leftist group of the Labour Party, which was in power, broke away mainly because they were against Norways NATO membership and its pro-nuclear stance. Many of those who left joined the Socialist Party, and some of them were pacifists, exploring new and radical development paths at home and internationally. The mainstream Labour Party had become more and more 'responsible and 'pragmatic, unlike the way it was in its radical days before the Second World War and in its heydays in the 1950s. In the mentioned case, the Norwegian Labour Party got weakened, but not enough to lose majority in the sitting Parliament. But they did lose in the general election that followed soon. And we should add that the political system functioned the way it should. It may be interesting to know that Norway had a 'national unity government for some years immediately after the Second World War, when the foreign Nazi occupation ended, and all political parties joined hands to rebuild the country, leaving party politics aside for a while. In any case, the Labour Party had a comfortable majority and it was only natural under the circumstances that the other parties were invited to assist the ruling party and have a real stake in how things were shaped. Otherwise, they might feel snubbed and could have become very critical to the ruling party. But this was an exception to the rule and the way the parliamentary system was set to function, all the time since 1884 when it was introduced in Norway. In many countries today, there are often small margins between the majority party or parties and the minority groups. That then usually leads to the government having to 'rule from the centre, as it is called. They cannot take radical and extreme stances on major issues, risking that some of their own members will vote against their policies together with the opposition parties and then force the government to resign. They have to tread carefully, sometimes to such an extent that they become ineffective because they dont have a 'comfortable majority to put major legislation forward. In such cases, a new election may be held and make the situation clearer, with a good margin for the winners. It is a worry, though, if one party gets an overwhelming majority, they may indeed become arrogant and heavy-handed, not bothering to consult others and listen to opposing views. In our world today, opinion polls are important, and they are studied and listened to by the politicians. The politicians also get feedback at party meetings, seminars, town hall meetings, and so on. The employers and employee organisations, interest organisations and the forest of civil society groups are indeed essential. That means that the politicians dont live in a vacuum between two elections. Rather, they live in a dialogue with their voters. I have underlined that the opposition parties have a clear role to play. The ruling party or parties often depend on the opposition to make good decisions, and they must all consider the quality of the others arguments. Nobody needs to change their positions, but unpopular legislation cannot be forced through so it may have to be modified to include some of the oppositions concerns. Of course, that may sometimes lead to 'watering down of the legislation. In other cases, the majority may make clear why it wants certain decisions to be made, even if unpopular by minority groups, and if they feel their arguments are strong enough, they will pass such legislation. But, alas, then the voters may dislike it to such an extent that they will not vote for the party in the next election. The opposition has its clear role to play. But, the party or parties in position, the government, also has a duty to rule. They must also not shy away from performing their duty, but they should not behave heavy-handedly. The winner must listen to the opposition, and in serious cases moderate its legislation, making it acceptable for all, even if full consensus is not reached. Finally, heavy-handedness from the party in power should not happen. And pettiness and obstruction from the opposition must also not happen. The two blocks in Parliament must find effective ways to run their businesses, so that they can achieve results to the benefit of the people they are set to serve. How is Pakistan fairing? I am just a columnist, I dont know that. I just say that it is always the opposition that criticises the government, why doesnt the government sometimes criticise the opposition? Indeed, I know that Egypt has performed terribly badly. But then they are actually light-years away from Pakistan. How could 'we let the situation go on in Egypt for 30 years? That is a puzzle to me. But now they have a chance to develop a parliamentarian system, with checks and balances. I am glad that Pakistan does have civilian rule with an elected Parliament. Let us be proud of that. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad. Email: