- Are we shutting down Parliament?
During a little more than a year, the PTI government has promulgated over 15 ordinances, thus subverting the core legislative duty of Parliament. Legislation through Parliament leads to a thorough discussion on a proposed bill, first at the level of the parliamentary committees and finally on the floor of the two Houses. The debate from multiple perspectives ensures that the interests of various stake holders are taken into account and possible flaws removed.
An ordinance is no doubt a legal instrument. Article 89 of the Constitution however requires it to be resorted to only when Parliament is not in session and a law to meet an unforeseen emergency cannot wait till the next meeting of the National Assembly or Senate. The President however is required to satisfy himself that circumstances exist that render it necessary to take immediate action by making and promulgating an Ordinance. The Constitution thus puts a heavy burden on the President. There is a widespread perception that the President is acting more as a party loyalist that an independent head of state, signing whatever paper is sent to him by the government, be it an Ordinance, a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council or a notification to appoint ECP members favoured by the government.
There is hardly any emergency requiring an urgent promulgation of the eight references cleared by the cabinet for presidential assent. One seeks an amendment to the NAB Ordinane under which those facing charges of corruption worth Rs50 million or more would only be entitled to be kept in ‘C-Class’ in prisons. This is seen to be clearly aimed at high-profile opposition leaders currently in jail on grounds that they have challenged in the courts. The idea is to torture them as long as they are in jail, even if they are finally cleared by the courts.
The perception that the presidency is being turned into a factory for manufacturing questionable ordinances at the behest of the government could inflame tensions in the two houses and reduce the opposition’s incentive to work with the government even when there are genuine and shared interests to pursue.