The December 16 bloody rampage by Taliban gunmen at the Army Public School and College Peshawar that killed 150 people brought all parliamentary parties on the same page on how to fight the menace of terrorism.
So much so that Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which had been leading a vociferous campaign against the government for four months, also called off its protest to lend support to the government in its counter-terrorism efforts. Previously, there had never been such broad-based parliamentary consensus on the need for legislation to strengthen the country’s criminal justice system.
However when it comes to lawmaking, the track record of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has been dismal during the outgoing year. The ruling party failed to introduce any public interest bill, raising questions over the seriousness of its lawmakers in the legislative process which is a key part of a democratic process.
Similarly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and key members of his cabinet seldom showed up in parliament – much to the disappointment of lawmakers from other parties. However, when the PTI and Dr Tahirul Qadri’s PAT started their protest marches on August 14, the prime minister and his aides turned to parliament for support. Premier Nawaz attended almost all sittings of the joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate which had been convened to form a united political front against a perceived threat of an impending extra-constitutional move.
The ‘Dar’ factor
For most part of 2014, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had been the only talking head for the government in parliament, even in the presence of the prime minister. Things, however, changed and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar replaced him as the defender of the government. Now, Nisar’s role has been limited to the interior ministry, a leader of the ruling party said. Ishaq Dar is the finance minister but he is the most vocal and ubiquitous figure in the PML-N government. On every issue, be it economy or proposed political and electoral reforms package or dialogue with the PTI, Dar has been on the forefront. Currently, he is heading about 40 committees formed by the government on key issues related to governance, economy and electoral reforms. Another PML-N leader said unlike Nisar’s hawkish demeanor, Dar follows a conciliatory approach and is good at negotiations with political rivals. During PPP’s government, he had successfully negotiated with the then ruling party on issues like 18th, 19th and 20th constitutional amendments.
No bills on the table
Out of 58 private members’ bills tabled in the lower house since June 1, 2013, not a single could grab attention of any prominent lawmaker. These bills pertain to important issues like children’s rights, women’s rights, constitutional amendments, criminal procedures, torture, harassment and Hindu marriages.
Of the 18 bills tabled by the treasury benches in parliament, 15 sailed through the house. Apparently, not a single of these proposed laws was linked to public interest, as the subjects of these bills are bureaucracy, law and justice commission, Federal Public Services Commission (FPSC) and Services Tribunals, a parliamentary official said.
“Due to unnecessarily lengthy agenda on the days exclusively meant for private members, key public interest bills could not see the light of day,” an official of the National Assembly Secretariat said.
In all, the National Assembly adopted 80 resolutions in 2014 on different issues, including on PIA’s performance, ceasefire violations by India, Gaza conflict, CNIC registration and condemnation of terrorist attacks. A resolution supporting democracy was adopted during the joint session of parliament in the wake of PAT’s and PTI’s dharnas outside the Parliament House.
Similarly, the lower house of parliament did not clear any bill originated in the upper house. On the contrary, the PPP-led previous government had set a record by passing 116 bills with an average of more than 23 bills per parliamentary year, including 19 private members bills. The Protection of Pakistan Bill, 2014 and The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Act, 2014 were passed during the outgoing year, revealed the data. Interestingly, not a single private member bill has been passed by the National Assembly under the PML-N.
MQM lawmaker Kishwar Zehra, who has introduced seven bills, expressed concern over the ‘poor parliamentary performance’ of the incumbent government. “The house didn’t pass a single bill presented by me despite the fact that all bills truly represented issues of public interest,” she told The Express Tribune.
Zehra’s concern was echoed by independent Senator Mohsin Leghari, whose Constitutional Amendment Bill 2013 could not be presented before the Senate as he does not have enough numbers to get it passed. “Legislation is our primary job and our parliamentary committees should clear bills quickly,” he added.
Some key bills like The Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace (Amendment Bill) 2014, and Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape (Prevention and Prevent) Bill 2014, moved by PPP Senator Farahatullah Babar, HIV/AIDS (Safety and Control) Bill 2013, moved by PPP MNAs Dr Azra Fazl and Dr Nafisa Shah, and Ratification of International Treaties Bill 2013, tabled by PTI’s Dr Shireen Mazari, have been pending with the relevant standing committees of the Senate and the National Assembly, reveals the official record.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2014.
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