EDITORIAL: Even as political temperatures remain high there are signs of the opposition and government moving towards resolving some of the argumentation over the process of making laws. In his written response to National Assembly (NA) Speaker Asad Qaiser’s letter inviting the opposition parties for talks on pending legislation, including the contentious electoral reforms bill, Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif has indicated joint oppositions’ willingness to cooperate, albeit with certain reservations. Rejecting the Speaker’s suggestion to activate the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Business, he said that the committee was formed “without following the required legislative procedure” and despite holding three meetings it could not even finalizes its terms of reference due to lack of support by the government members. All the bills to be considered by this committee, he pointed out, either lapsed or were rejected by the Senate and referred to joint sitting of Parliament, hence completely negating the purpose for which it was formed. Sharif has asked the Speaker either to form a new parliamentary committee or allow the old one to take up all bills passed by the NA but not adopted by the upper house.
Unfortunately, parliamentary business has remained riven by partisan bickering mainly due to the ruling party’s attitude. Right from the outset its members have shown little interest in upholding parliamentary traditions. They have constantly been squabbling with the opposition over an issue that belonged to a different domain, hurling insults at its leaders and accusing them of being “thieves” and “robbers”. That was bad enough, but important pieces of legislation have also routinely been steamrolled through the NA. In one instance alone last June, the house approved as many as 21 bills in a day while the opposition members were away on a protest walkout. And short of strength in the upper house, earlier this month the ruling party also summoned a joint session of Parliament for the passage of the electoral reforms bill that includes the much controversial use of electronic voting machines and I-voting by overseas Pakistanis. The effort though fell through as the government’s own allies refused to go along, complaining that they are not consulted on important decision-making matters. Worse still is legislation through executive decree. Bypassing Parliament, this government has promulgated countless presidential ordinances earning it the dubious reputation of ruling by ordinances.
The joint opposition now is right to demand that a new parliamentary committee take up the proposed electoral reforms as part of a “complete package”. It is unclear, nonetheless, whether the ‘package’ means all the bills the government has wanted to have endorsed by the joint session or just the contents of the electoral reforms bill. In any event, it is imperative that these reforms have the support of all parliamentary parties so they have trust in them. Hopefully, this time both sides will work together to improve the electoral system so no one has reason to cry foul at the results of next general elections.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021