Geo-strategic challenges, national security, political instability, civil-military relations and executive-judiciary tensions largely defined the agenda for the 13th National Assembly during its fourth parliamentary year that ended on March 17.
This information was made available through a preliminary report released by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) on Tuesday.
The report said the National Assembly’s response, in most cases, was swift and categorical, although its actions were not matched by the executive in terms of enforcement, deepening a public perception of parliamentary ineffectiveness.
However, participation in the National Assembly was weak, according to FAFEN. Of the total number of people who did not participate in parliamentary business at all, 14 were women and 47 were men. 24 of these truants were members of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), 14 were from Pakistan Muslim League (PML), nine from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and the rest from Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) and others.
What the NA neglected
While political matters were on top of the agenda of the lower house, issues that were neglected related mostly to public welfare. These include employment, public health and growing inflation. The Charter of Child Rights Bill, the Pakistan Food Security Bill and the Senior Citizens Welfare Bill were some of the private member bills that were not taken up by the legislators.
Eight resolutions on health-related issues, five on education and four on employment remained unaddressed.
Quorum in the national assembly amounts to one fourth (86 members) of total membership. Though quorum was visibly lacking, it was not pointed out throughout the year.
During the first three years, the National Assembly attended to less than half of their stated agendas. The low disposal of agenda corresponds with a low average sitting time through the year, which remained a mere two hours and 51 minutes.
A gender-wise analysis of the fourth year places women participation ahead of men. Sixty-five of 77 women parliamentarians accounted for more than half of the agenda conducted during the year. In comparison, male members, who constitute 77% of the National Assembly, seemed less active in asserting and raising public voices.
The NA speaker did not chair 57% of the sittings, although this may be because she was away for official reasons.
Some landmark legislation through political consensus included the Bill on Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention - passed unanimously on May 10, 2011. The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill 2011 was also passed with consensus in November 2011.
While executive responsiveness to the assembly remained weak, the ministerial presence in the assembly session improved as compared to previous year. This perhaps is a result of the interest of the leader of the house in the assembly proceedings, who maintained his tradition of attending the sittings regularly by participating in 82 out of 100 sittings. The prime minister remained the most present leader of any parliamentary party in the house.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2012.
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