Feb 20, 2009

Parliamentary inertia

Given the number of military interventions in the country, one shouldn’t be surprised if our legislators do not seem to be aware of the position which parliament enjoys in a democratic dispensation.

Some of those sitting in parliament now are experienced hands. But the cumulative effect of decades of military rule coming in four bouts has served to inhibit the growth of democratic institutions and retarded the development of parliamentary maturity.

In less than a month, the current National Assembly would have completed a year in existence, but, as a Dawn report in Thursday’s issue points out, it has been able to enact only four laws although 75 bills were placed before it.
That it passed the finance bill does not deserve to be taken note of, for the passage of the budget needs a simple majority, and the treasury benches would see to it that it was passed.

Of the three other bills passed by the Assembly, two had come from the Senate and one was a private member’s effort. This means that there was only one bill, that of finance, which the PPP-led coalition moved in the Assembly and had passed to keep the state going. Lying in the Assembly are some very important bills. They include bills on compulsory school education, press and publications, human rights, domestic violence, special citizens, etc.
Evidently, MNAs on both sides of the divide do not realise the importance of these bills, especially the one relating to compulsory education. Pakistan’s social landscape would change in a couple of decades if there were compulsory education.

Also with a standing committee is the bill to scrap or change the 17th Amendment. It is stuck less because of the MNAs’ apathy and more because the ruling coalition and the opposition have not reached a consensus, even though all parties have publicly committed to doing away with an article that was reinserted in the constitution by the Musharraf regime.

The constitution’s parliamentary character cannot be restored unless Article 58-2(b) is abolished and amendments made to turn the president into a titular head of state.

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