Parliament after seven decades 

Dream of parliamentary sovereignty

On the occasion of the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947 the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah referred to Parliament as “the sovereign legislative body of the country” which had got all the powers. Within a few years after his death the Constituent Assembly was sent packing home by Governor General Ghulam Mohammad who represented bureaucracy that had taken over power and was to be replaced within years by military rule under Gen Ayub Khan. Military rulers set up nurseries to train loyalists, providing them funds and state patronage to establish roots. The parliaments run by dictators’ loyalists remained toothless. Politicians who opposed dictators demanded loyalty to themselves and promoted dynastic politics. The party chiefs who became PMs concentrated all powers in their hands, and displayed little inclination to empower local bodies or strengthen Parliament.

What happened in the National Assembly on Wednesday was not something new. This is what one has seen happening under three governments since 2008, with rows occupied normally by ministers frequently empty, and numerous MNAs absent leading to the proceedings of the House being called off due to lack of quorum. What distinguished the Assembly session this time however was that a nine party alliance was ruling the country. What is more, with the PTI trying hard to prove that its opponents lacked unity and were going to fail, it was all the more necessary for the ruling alliance to prove that they could run the assembly successfully despite the resignations of the PTI MNAs.

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In Wednesday’s sitting of the National Assembly the PM was absent along with almost the entire cabinet. In fact for the past two days, the speaker had been running the House without quorum. A day earlier a PTI dissident MNA protested over the absence of the ministers from the House during the crucial debate on the budget but said he would not point out quorum. The PPP’s Khursheed Shah, who had brought the situation to the notice of the Speaker, pointed out that Governments could not be run without giving respect to Parliament. He lamented that Parliament had become a joke. Unless the Parliament improved its working and was seen to be committed to its mission, it could not demand respect while the slogan of the supremacy or sovereignty of Parliament would sound hollow.

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

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