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Parliamentary summons for the PM

One terrible lesson the West Pakistanis learnt from the break-up of the country in 1971 was that single-house parliament was antithetical to federalism which Pakistan was as it then existed in two units set apart by a thousand of miles. Both the 1956 and 1962 constitutions established single-chamber National Assembly parliament that did cater for representational parity between the two wings. However, these constitutions did not provide for the Upper House with equal representation of federating units that acts as a check to take a more realistic view of the situation and implications of the bills passed by the Lower House in the 'heat of emotions' or haste. Rightly then, the 1973 constitution catered for two houses of parliament, the second being the Senate where the provinces enjoyed parity irrespective of the size of their populations. The Senate is also expected to act as repository of talent, experience and specialisation by inducting talented and well-known personalities of national stature who otherwise would like to stay out of electoral fray. Nonetheless the Senate of Pakistan has not been made as powerful as the Senate in the United States. Its legislative powers are limited - more importantly in respect of money bills - and can be overruled only by passage in a joint session of the parliament. Should the government decide to override the Senate it can call joint sitting of parliament under Article 70 of the constitution and have the bill enacted in just one day provided it has the requisite strength in parliament to have it passed.

But the government should not do that. Parliamentary democracy keeps evolving ever needing constitutional amendments to keep pace with emerging realities; so we need to take care that the letter of the constitution doesn't come into conflict with the spirit of time and space. Given the fact there are simmering insurgent movements in some areas, drawing sustenance as they do from calls of discriminatory treatment by the Centre, the central government needs to be watchful that its moves and acts don't undermine the constitutional ethos of federalism. Is there any explanation to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's practice to take only the chief minister of Punjab on his visits abroad, ignoring other three chief ministers. As prime minister, his constituency is not only Punjab but the whole of Pakistan, and other provinces too need foreign investments. Even more astonishing if not disturbing is the fact that ever since his election he has stayed away from the Senate, which is an elected institution and under the present conditions of looming threats to federalism has a critical role and responsibility. That an alliance of his political rivals is in majority in that chamber is hardly a reason that he should boycott the Senate proceedings. The Senate is a product of the constitution and a prime minister of Pakistan is under oath to defend and protect the constitution. Isn't it unusual and extraordinary that the Senate of Pakistan had to legislate to seek attendance of the prime minister? The world over it is pride of parliamentary democracies that the elected prime ministers see to it that they come to the house to answer questions posed by the members. In democratic ambience, power and accountability go hand in hand; there is no such thing as unlimited power of an elected prime minister. It sounds patently ridiculous that a government Senator should justify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's absence on the grounds that 'Pakistan was faced with many challenges and crises therefore he is unable to come to the Senate'. The prime minister must come to the Senate regularly - though the opposition's ruling to force his attendance is quite lukewarm and bereft of obligatory compliance. Once a week, only for an hour or so, in the Senate whenever he is in the country is that we believe Nawaz Sharif can always make time to do. In functioning democracies it is quite possible that the government is not in majority in both the houses but legislation still takes place, for both sides of the political divide owe it to the country and people to do whatever it takes to ensure that their rivalries don't stand in the way of keeping the laws adequately updated and relevant.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2014