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September 18, 2020

Parliamentary farce

Editorial

 
September 18, 2020

We have turned parliament into a kind of farce. Indeed, it acts as a kind of place which is better suited to the hosting of performance rather than the passing of important legislation. Generally, the moves we have seen have involved the government passing a bill in the National Assembly, only to have the opposition lock it in the Senate. This has sometimes been followed by a joint sitting of both houses in which the bill has been passed amid strong opposition protests. This came to light most visibly on Wednesday, when eight important bills related to the FATF were to be passed. The opposition has an overall majority, when both houses of parliament are set together. It has 226 members compared to the government's 216. However, even though the order of business concerned the entire nation and its economy, only 200 members from the government and 190 members from the opposition were able to appear in the House to cast their ballots. This is obviously disturbing. It shows the gravity with which our parliamentarians take legislation and we wonder why they are there at all. In the final run, the government achieved a huge victory by being able to pass even the more controversial bills.

The question is: why are we not able to bring legislators into the House at least for the most important occasions? Why are they so indifferent to their duties? What precisely are their duties and why do they ignore them? The whole matter is one that could take on very serious dimensions in the future. The opposition has defended itself against the prime minister's strong accusatory speech, claiming complete victory in parliament. According to the opposition, its members, including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif were not permitted to speak. But this is beside the point; even if they had spoken, the bills would still have been passed. The question of exactly what is contained in the bills is more important.

If the opposition had been able to persuade all its members to temporarily put aside other functions and duties and appear in the House, we may have had a more relevant debate on the entire matter. As it happened, this was not possible. The manner in which parliament and parliamentary duty is taken is saddening. This has to change. The government has indeed won as it did in the Senate when, despite a huge opposition majority, the chairman of the House was not changed. The question of horse-trading and other shady dealings comes up again and again. We need more transparency and more openness so that people can be fully involved in the governance of the country.