Balance ~ finally
All-square’ in the circular, colonnaded, “battle arena”, as President Pranab Mukherjee recently described Parliament. The just concluded monsoon session did have its share of disruption, noise and all the other behaviour that has now made “rowdy” and “unparliamentary” synonymous, but a fair amount of legislative business was transacted: a welcome contrast from previous sessions. The government would rest content that its key moves on food security, land reforms, pensions and street vendors were adopted: the Lok Sabha passed 13 Bills while the Rajya Sabha notched up five more, and 30 Bills were introduced. There was some “ganging up” in trying to undo the Supreme Court verdict debarring people in custody from contesting elections; and though the matters were eventually transferred to committees, so also in respect of keeping political parties beyond the ambit of the RTI mechanism, and re-working the system of higher judicial appointments.
Conversely, the Opposition would feel more than satisfied at having ensured that the Prime Minister remained cornered over coal block allocations and that his personal involvement, or non-involvement, in the process renders him vulnerable: Mr Manmohan Singh simply failed to prove his credentials. That peace was “bought” in both Houses when he left on a foreign visit only emphasises how he was unable to extricate himself from the firing line. This could well prove his “Bofors”. The normally smug finance minister was reduced to a shadow of himself as the prolonged economic downturn and the collapse of the rupee projected him in very poor light: those MPs unable to analyse the picture presented by a weakening stock market and projections of a low growth-rate had the tear-stirring prices of onions to back-up their theory that Chidambaram had come up short. What really had the UPA in deep trouble was the continued protest against the creation of Telangana by MPs from the Seemandhra region. Only the home minister&’s ill-health saved him from coming under severe attack ~ as did the defence minister for his wishy-washy statements.
The most significant aspect of the “mixed bag” was the principal Opposition party&’s realisation that its policy of disruption had run out of currency, and that it actually had enough competence within its ranks to hit the government hard in the way the people expect it to “attack” in the legislature. Had such pressure been brought to bear in previous sessions UPA-II would have been in deeper trouble than it is.
It is, however, disturbing that in the Rajya Sabha the confrontation was not limited to government-opposition clashes. The key presiding officers and the secretariat also invited fire: some matters remained unresolved even as the House shut down sine die. Criticism of the institution of the “Chair” is indeed undesirable, surely that also mandates its’ occupants’ functioning to ever be pristine?
There has been a right-turn in Australia and more important than the defeat of Labor ~ after having ruled for six years ~ is that the party has suffered the worst result since the Thirties. Which makes the change of guard in Sydney still more critical with Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister-elect, making a euphoric declaration that the country is “under new management”. Resounding has been the victory of his conservative Liberal-National coalition set to win 89 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives. After six years in power, the 57 seats that Labor has won would seem to be dismal in the extreme. Its final vote has dropped to a historic low of 34 per cent and dramatic indeed has been the psephological swing.
Yet the outgoing PM, Kevin Rudd, who deposed Julia Gillard in June, has been remarkably gracious in his acceptance of defeat ~ “I gave it my all, but it was not enough for us to win.” Gracious no less has been Ms Gillard&’s reaction ~ “A tough night for Labor. But a spirited fight by Kevin + the whole team. My thoughts are with you all… JG.” That gesture draws a line under the long-running feud between Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard, one that has doubtless vitiated Labor politics for the past three years, and has arguably contributed in no small measure to the electoral debacle. Consequent to the in-house coup, the Labor Party had abandoned Ms. Gillard in the hope of averting a landslide loss; however, the outcome suggests that it has not been able to dispel the impression that it was more focused on personal feuds than on such pressing issues as the slowing of Australia&’s mining-driven economy and the record number of asylum-seekers trying to reach the country in dangerous and overcrowded boats.
However spectacular the triumph of the conservatives, the legislative balance of power will remain a thorny issue. While the party position is clear in the House of Representatives, which determines the formation of governments, the tally in the Senate is still far from certain. A numerical disconnect in the legislature could cause problems for Mr Abbott in his essay towards changes in policy on such matters as a paid parental leave plan, one that he had proposed during the campaign and the repeal of Labor&’s emissions trading programme and a tax on mining company profits. As in America, both Houses in Australia are involved in passing legislation. Going by present indications, the new Prime Minister will have to contend with an occasional legislative gridlock.