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EDITORIAL: National Assembly session on Monday, the second sitting of the new (fourth) parliamentary year, ended on a negative note due to the legislators’ indifferent attitude. Prime Minister’s Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan had come prepared to present two ordinances for approval. But before he took the floor the session had to be adjourned by Speaker Asad Qaiser due to lack of quorum pointed out by a PML-N member. So thin was the attendance that the Speaker did not find it necessary to order a number count. The earlier September 17 sitting of the House had also failed to discuss the proposed agenda for the same reason. That though is not something new. As the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), an independent think-tank, notes in its report on the performance of the lower house during the last parliamentary year, 24 out of the 79 total sittings were adjourned because of lack of quorum.

It should not be difficult for the ruling party to maintain quorum. All it needs is the presence of one-fourth members of the 324-member house, which comes to 86 legislators only. Yet every so often, that becomes a problem. The reason is not difficult to figure out. As it is, the prime minister rarely makes an appearance in the National Assembly, which disincentivises his ministers, and when the ministers are not there most legislators do not find it worth their while to be present. That in fact has been the way of the previous PML-N government, too. The number of times former prime minister Nawaz Sharif went to Parliament could be counted on fingers. Cynics note that he made more visits abroad than to the nation’s top legislative forum. Only the PPP leaders have creditable track record in this respect. Elected governments need to show respect to the institution from which they derive the right to govern.

Notably, soon after coming to power Imran Khan had announced his intention to make himself available to members of Parliament in a fortnightly “Prime Minister’s Question Hour” to answer their questions. That was not to be. As noted earlier, he kept away from the assembly as far as possible. According to his party men and women, the reason was the opposition’s rowdy behaviour. That should not bother a sportsman of his experience and standing. In any event, the key responsibility to ensure smooth running of legislative business falls squarely on the ruling party’s shoulders. The opposition legislators may want to give hard time to the ruling party with walkouts and/or other forms of protest. It is for the government to see to it that parliamentary business does not come to a stop because some of its legislators think they have better things to do than what they got elected to do.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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