Whooshing through the National Assembly

Laws are supposed to be discussed

The hasty passage of 21 bills by the National Assembly on Thursday, with the rules suspended to avoid debate, does not speak much for the House’s ability to debate legislation when it is passed. The rules of the House permit this by passing of the rules, but it is supposed to be a special procedure, used as a last resort, not simply to let the Treasury get through legislation conveniently. One result of the haste shown is that a law allowing electronic voting machines at the next election has gone through without a word being said for or against. Similarly, the NEPRA Act has been amended to allow the regulator to hike tariffs rather than, as at present, recommend tariff raises to the government, which would then notify them wholly or partially. It was expected that these two, among others, would have provoked the opposition to hold forth, and the defence of the government was to have helped enlighten the nation about these measures.

However, as the Prime Minister has shown that he sees the National Assembly merely as a mechanism by which he is to be given executive power, and his long absences from the House show he does not consider it a repository of the wisdom of the nation, it is no wonder that members of his party share the same attitude. That would explain why the opposition has moved a vote of no-confidence against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri. It is unlikely that the motion will pass, for it would mean the government has lost its majority, but it is probably the only way the opposition can register its protest. The presiding officer is not supposed to expedite government business, but ensure that the House is conducted according to the rules.

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The government has brought forward this rash of legislation because it wishes to bring these bills before the Senate. It will be a test of that House, whether it allows those bills to go through, or it ensures the debate that the nation craves. Though the government got its nominee elected Chairman, there is no guarantee that the legislation will have such smooth passage. If any bill fails, it will be referred to a joint sitting, where the government and its allies can probably muster a majority. However, the government should remember that the purpose of Parliament is not merely to legislate, but to legislate well. And that means a lot of debate, not all of it necessarily brilliant, but still reflective of the collective wisdom of the nation.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]


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