The withering of parliament

It is the place where representatives elected by the people work on the nuts and bolts of governance

Editorial May 19, 2018

Of all the great institutions of state it is parliament that is truly emblematic of a functional democracy. It is the place where representatives elected by the people work on the nuts and bolts of governance and legislation. Along with parliamentary subcommittees, it is the backbone of democratic process. Or so it should be. Sadly the last four years have seen parliament gradually fading as a necessary or even important adjunct of the state. Its business is frequently truncated by not being quorate and members of the National Assembly both government and Opposition offer a dilatory attitude to attendance. The threadbare nature of parliament is most recently exposed by the difficulty the government had in passing the federal budget for 2018-19 due to a lack of a quorum in the National Assembly. Eventually, it was third time lucky and the budget was passed after two previous failed attempts due to a lack of a quorum, on Friday May 18th.

Passing the annual budget ought to be a routine matter as it is in the interests of all parties great and small. Except that in these dying days of the PML-N government there is little interest in servicing a parliament that has increasingly become an irrelevance. It is not the venue for epic debates, there are no statesmen anymore, merely jobbing politicians who for the most part show up in order to claim allowances and occupy the parliamentary lodges. Those that rise above the common herd are few and disproportionately female, the males of the political species being bears of little brain for the most part.

As for the budget itself, it was a departure from the delusional Days of Dar if only because efforts at taxation outweigh the tax relief offered to the oligarchs of industry and the agriculture sector and gives a realistic picture of government expenditure — a move that Mr Dar was never comfortable making. How much of all this is going to survive an interregnum and a general election is an open question, but we may be sure that the new parliament will be as empty as the old.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2018.

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