Work expands to fill the time available for its completion, according to Parkinson’s Law. Something similar could be said about the speeches our “elected representatives” make in Parliament. Their inanities multiply in proportion to the time given to them for speaking, as was evident at the joint Parliamentary session spread over three weeks that was called in to prevent unnamed forces from “derailing democracy.”

But the proceedings also served one useful purpose. They exposed our Parliament as never before, as a bastion of graft and privilege. Packed as it is with tax cheats, money launderers, looters of public money, false degree holders and other specimens of the parasitical ruling class, their only interest is to further entrench and expand their power and wealth. There are a few honourable exceptions but they are hopelessly outnumbered and their voice in Parliament is drowned out by the overwhelming majority of lawmakers who have banded together across party lines to preserve the hold of the privileged few on the levers of power.

Their claim to be the torch-bearers of the supremacy of the Constitution, or the rule of law, or of civilian over military supremacy, never sounded hollower. Never was the need for a radical reform of our political institutions, in particular the electoral system, more urgent.

The good news is that our Parliament has never before felt as beleaguered as it does now. As the members of the august houses cower behind the high walls of their chambers, their ranting and raving becomes louder and shriller. They are afraid even of the presence of a few thousand protesters who are braving the oppressive summer heat and monsoon downpours to camp outside the hallowed precincts of Parliament.

The other piece of good news is that the ordinary people of the country who have long borne their suffering in silence and resignation as something ordained by destiny, are waking up to their rights and their power. This awakening has not come yet, but it is dawning. It is a good thing that Imran, who had at first concentrated on the immediate goal of securing Nawaz’s resignation, has now changed his priorities and has turned to the crucial task of motivating and encouraging the common man to stand up and fight for his rights.

But this is going to be a long haul and there is a powerful alliance of the status quo parties who are hell-bent on preserving the present system. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that they can be defeated with singleness of purpose and determination. Imran’s announcement that he will not leave his container without obtaining Nawaz’s resignation indicates that he has the necessary resolve.

Supporters of the status quo have been trying to draw comfort from the fact that the crowds at Imran’s sit-ins are nowhere near the ambitious target he had set. But they know better than anyone that the size of the crowd at political rallies is mainly a function of the amount of money spent and is far from being an accurate measure of the popularity of a party or its success in getting its message across. In any case, with the availability of live TV coverage of political events, large-sized political rallies are fast becoming obsolete.

One sign that public awakening has begun is the tone of the speeches made in Parliament and the way our lawmakers have rallied across party lines to protect their privileges and save the broken political system of which they are the beneficiaries. They have not only pointed their guns at protesters assembled at D- chowk and Constitution Avenue, but also maligned the military as the “scriptwriter” of the agitation.

Official sources are also believed to be behind agency reports of pressure allegedly having been exerted on the army chief by a group of hawkish generals to step in and force Nawaz to resign. Such speculations are often the subject of parlour games that our politicians and some retired generals love to play.

To no one’s surprise, the Parliament’s joint session concluded with the adoption of a resolution in which it piously condemned the ongoing sit-ins and the ‘unconstitutional demands’ of the protestors and reiterated its resolve to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution, the democratic system, the sanctity of state institutions and the Parliament. The resolution also asserted that the Parliament embodies the will of the people of Pakistan.

All this was expected, but the resolution adopted by the joint session conspicuously does not touch on the question of election rigging or the demand for electoral reform which triggered the present movement. This failure indicates how much the Parliament is out of touch with fast changing ground realities. It has still not dawned on the honourable members that business as usual based on the status quo cannot continue after the upheavals of the last month.

No less important, the Parliament missed an opportunity to open the door for meaningful dialogue to break the present impasse and to take the country out of a blind alley. Because of its inability or unwillingness to respond to the surging demand for an overhaul of the country’s corrupt and broken political institutions, the Parliament has become a lame duck well before its constitutional term runs out. It could soon become completely irrelevant as the national political debate shifts increasingly to the “street”. Events will not stand still just because Parliament refuses to budge and to heed the rising crescendo of protests against the hold of a corrupt self-styled “elite” on national wealth and power.

    The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.