Of political manipulation

November 10, 2019

The opposition has warned the government of protests if it continues to hurry legislation

Of political manipulation

Last week during a session of the Senate, members of the opposition parties protested in front of the chairman’s podium chanting slogans: "No to ordinances"; "No to civilian dictatorship"; and "Give respect to parliament". The chair adjourned the session.

The recent series of promulgation of ordinances one after the other has become a matter of serious concern with some politicians accusing the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of undermining the parliament in a democratic set up.

Since coming to power in August 2018, the government has promulgated more than 15 ordinances. During the first week of this month alone, President Arif Alvi promulgated eight ordinances. The federal cabinet had approved these ordinances a week before their enforcement. The latest ordinances, include Enforcement of Administration of Women Property Rights Ordinance, Amended Ordinance of Benami Transaction Act 2017, Superior Courts (court dress and mode of address) Ordinance, Legal Aid and Justice Authority Ordinance, Whistleblowers Ordinance and Civil Procedure Code (CPC) Amended Ordinance, and amendment in the National Accountability Ordinance disallowing a better prison class to the person(s) allegedly involved in the embezzlement of Rs 50 million or more. The amendment, allegedly, is politically motivated to deny better facilities to political opponents accused of corruption.

Article 89 of the Constitution clearly reads that the authority to promulgate an ordinance can only be used in special and exceptional circumstances. "The president may promulgate an ordinance when the Senate or the National Assembly is not in session, and only if the president is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action." Furthermore, the 18th Amendment bars governments from re-promulgation of the same ordinance after 120 days.

It appears that the PTI-led coalition government is sidelining the parliament that holds a hawkish opposition in both the houses - National Assembly and Senate. With this the government aims to continue legislation through ordinances by avoiding confrontation in the houses.

Major opposition parties -- the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) -- are strongly opposing this strategy of legislation through promulgation of ordinances warning the government of protests if it continues with ‘hurried legislation’.

"Ordinances can be passed only in an emergency situation and when it is not easy to convene a session of the parliament. If there is a threat of terrorism or economic emergency you can bring such special laws but here we see this government is not respecting the parliament. There are instances when some ordinances were introduced while one of the two houses of the parliament was in session," says PML-N senator Pervez Rasheed. "We do not see any emergency situation nor do we see any quality in terms of the ordinances being introduced." Many of these ordinances are defective, controversial and discriminatory, he says adding that if such a law is needed the government must convene a session of the lower house to initiate a debate on it.

"The government is bound to provide the reasons that necessitated the president to promulgate the ordinance. And when an ordinance is laid in the house there must be a debate on it," says Naveed Qamar, a senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

For her part, Shireen Mazari, federal minister for human rights, accuses the opposition of creating chaos in the parliament and of keeping bills pending in the relevant standing committees - one of the main reasons, she says, the government is forced to think about alternative strategies. At present, more than 120 bills, including a 100 private member bills, are pending before various committees of the National Assembly.

Rasheed points out that the standing committees do not comprise only of opposition members but also include government members. "The process of approving bills by standing committee is consultative. Every bill is discussed in detail in the presence of all members, media and the concerned department. There is no question of any manipulation," says the PML-N senator.

In its first parliamentary year (from August 2018 to August 2019), the ruling coalition passed ten bills and introduced eight ordinances. A similar number of ordinances has been promulgated in the first quarter of the second parliamentary year. During the last session of the assembly on Thursday, the government laid a number of recently promulgated ordinances for converting these into bills and passed them within minutes without debate. This, the opposition, says was an attempt to avoid facing protest from the opposition members.

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"The government is bound to provide the reasons that necessitated the president to promulgate the ordinance. And when an ordinance is laid in the house there must be a debate on it. But unfortunately, the present government is bypassing these procedures and merely getting a nod for these bills without a debate," says Naveed Qamar, a senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party. "We will not let this happen any longer. They are paralysing the democratic process and forcing us to take to streets," he says.

"A look at the history of Pakistan indicates that the parliament has not been effective and we see legislation being done hastily to avoid the opposition," says Zahid Hussain, a political analyst. "However, we see that it is worse this time."  This is also worse because the government, particularly Prime Minister Imran Khan, is not willing to give any concession to opposition parties, he says. Also, there is no seriousness on the government’s side to run the parliament because they lack a decent majority and the political experience, he says. "The manner in which they are introducing ordinances affects the democratic process. Parliamentary debates need to be held on proposed legislations whether they like it or not," he adds. "However, given the circumstances it seems that this practice will continue in the near future."

Of political manipulation