Parliament on ventilator Sharmila Farooqi

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Pakistan is witnessing economic and political turmoil of an unprecedented scale and nature. State institutions and regulatory bodies no longer function independently due to the mounting pressure from the vacillating cabinet.

Back to back ordinances have undermined the very sanctity of parliament. All of these disturbing developments indicate that Pakistan’s parliamentary system has been left on the ventilator. Instead of empowering the branches of the government, Pakistan’s state of affairs have reached a new historic low under the PTI government.

Parliament is the sacred space where dialogue and consensus building takes place among all elected lawmakers but the current government is promoting a culture of rampant abuse and intolerance while little heed is being paid to what the opposition has to offer.

It is the opposition’s responsibility to scrutinize the work of the government, asking imperative questions and working on committees that examine Bills for the greater good of the country. For any parliamentary system that is without a strong and effective opposition, democracy simply cannot work.

The prime minister had promised to appear before the National Assembly for questions – a parliamentary norm where the PM must face tough questions from lawmakers on the floor of the House. In the UK, the PM’s questions take place as a special session every Wednesday noon. Prime Minister Imran Khan had vowed to follow this practice but the reality remains quite the opposite.

According to a report by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), PM Imran’s attendance in parliament was an abysmal 11 percent in the last two years. Constitutionally, the prime minister is the Leader of the House, and represents the federal government inside parliament. With the PM’s shocking low attendance statistics, the National Assembly is clearly without a leader today.

Let’s not forget how the government has promulgated successive presidential ordinances, breaking all previous records. Since 2018, the PTI government has promulgated a whopping 51 ordinances, which means that over 55 percent of the law-making in Pakistan has taken place after bypassing parliament, the real constitutional law-making factory. On October 31, 2019, the government signed eight ordinances in a single day – making history once again. Most of the time, ordinances have been promulgated when parliament has been in session – a clear violation of the constitution of Pakistan.

Ordinances are being promulgated not only for draconian laws but also for the removal of heads of many state institutions without any hesitation – a clearly against the spirit of democracy. It is alarming that the government introduced an ordinance to remove the chairman of the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The unceremonious departure of the HEC chairman is a clear reflection of how vulnerable our institutions and regulatory bodies have become.

Most of the laws promulgated through ordinances were just for convenience because the PTI government did not want to face parliament for debate and to defend and justify the proposed law.

It is vital to also point out how the PTI government bulldozed the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) draconian bills without even consulting the opposition parties. However, the federal government still failed to take Pakistan out of the task force’s grey list. The actual FATF laws were disregarded while draconian clauses were introduced just for a witch hunt against the opposition.

No constructive Covid-19 response policy has been introduced by the current government. Many parliamentary systems around the world introduced a national Covid-19 response policy through parliament where all political parties were on the same page.

Then, instead of formulating a constitutional body to counter Pakistan’s looming food crisis, the PM had introduced the ‘Tiger Force’ to monitor food prices inside the country. This was again done without consulting parliament.

For decades, the PPP has struggled for parliamentary supremacy – putting this sacred institution first for the greater good of the county. Whether in the federal government or as the opposition, the PPP strives not only for a strong federation but also for empowering all provinces in the country. It was the PPP which introduced the long delayed 18th Amendment – which empowered the parliamentary system for democracy to thrive. As president, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari had transferred all his powers to parliament.

Today, Pakistan’s parliamentary wheel is evidently struggling to fulfil the obligations of a democratic nation under the PTI government. The revival of parliament and civilian supremacy is the urgent need of the hour. Decent, inclusive and tolerant politics must be brought back into the political framework of Pakistan.