A couple of British newspapers apparently falsely reported earlier in the week that through a parliamentary support program enabling a temporary exchange of parliamentarians between Afghanistan and Britain, the speakers of the two lower houses would be the first to exchange places.
The Guardian and the Daily Mail both ran the story, but were trumped when the Independent reported British speaker John Berkow’s spokeswoman as saying that Mr. Berkow had not received an invitation to go to Kabul and had no plans to visit.
Seemingly, the idea had been floated by British Prime Minister David Cameron when he met the speaker of the lower house of Afghanistan, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, in Kabul some days ago. Mr. Berkow cut Mr. Cameron short twice during recent sessions of Prime Minister’s Questions and is often perceived as being anti-Conservative.
If the swap had been on the cards, the two speakers would have had an interesting experience, because Westminster is quite tame compared to some of its international counterparts.
British MPs can be very loud, eyeballing each other from parallel rows of benches with only a short distance between them and often needing to have “Order” yelled at them repeatedly during heated debates. But House of Commons members tend to avoid actual fisticuffs, preferring to spar verbally.
Travel east, and it gets more interesting. A member of Afghanistan’s minority Uzbek group, Mr. Ibrahimi struggled to maintain control in the semi-circular Wolesi Jirga (lower house) when a couple of female Afghan MPs reportedly came to blows recently; the fracas had started in the midst of a discussion about rocket attacks from Pakistan. Mr. Ibrahimi, a Kabul university graduate, is a former Hezb-e Islami commander.
In one Ukrainian parliamentary session, members threw rotten eggs at the speaker, and there is footage of him using umbrellas for protection as he struggles to read while a smoke bomb fills the chamber.
In Seoul not so long ago, immaculately dressed South Korean female MPs screamed and pulled at each others’ jacket lapels while their male counterparts attacked each other with their fists. The speaker banged his gavel helplessly as mayhem ensued.
In a separate incident, an East Asian politician in an expensive dark suit and tie grabbed a fellow legislator in a judo hold and expertly flipped the surprised lawmaker on his back.
In the beautiful lower chamber of the Indian parliamentary building, MPs often stand and disrupt proceedings, gesticulating and shouting so the speaker, after meekly saying “Aap batiye,” or “sit down please in English,” more often than not has to adjourn the session. On one memorable occasion, MPs thronged the well of the house right in front of the speaker and began an almighty brawl. They yanked microphones off of their desks and hurled them at their political opponents, some of whom were injured. The sight of MPs ducking behind the high wooden backs of their seats with uniformed officials unable to stop the rumpus was all caught on camera for shocked yet mesmerized Indian audiences.
(Rani Singh is a broadcaster who has worked with BBC television and radio, reporting, presenting and producing. She specializes in politics, business and security. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)