Parliament fountainhead of democracy


A PILDAT report on “The Democratic Development of Pakistan’s National and Provincial Assemblies” points out that so far Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has attended only two percent of the National Assembly’s sittings.

The performance on this score of his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, too leaves a lot to be desired. He showed up in the provincial assembly only 11.4 percent of the time while the attendance rate of Sindh Chief Minister – usually blamed for lax governance – was way ahead at 47 percent, that of the Balochistan Chief Minister 48 percent and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s 43 percent.

The latter three CMs, of course, did not set shining examples of good conduct, either, but they did exhibit a much higher sense of responsibility than the PM and Punjab CM. Following their respective leaders of the house, most MNAs and MPAs also chose to stay away with the result that the assemblies consistently lacked quorum.

Last Thursday, the Opposition in the National Assembly staged a protest walkout after drawing the Speaker’s attention to the fact that no minister was present in the House to respond to the members’ questions.

To say the least, it is sad that the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of the largest province of Punjab should think they have better or more important things to do than to attend the assemblies from which they draw the right to govern in their respective domains. It may be recalled that for an entire year after assumption of power, Nawaz Sharif neglected to attend a single Senate session. Upset over the attitude, the upper house passed a resolution demanding his presence once a week when the Senate is in session.

He made an appearance soon afterwards only by way of formality rather than to make any contribution to the proceedings. He has not gone back since. Aside from being the fountainhead of power in a parliamentary democracy, Parliament is where public representatives hold the executive to account.

Indeed, it is for the government to formulate policies and make decisions about important matters at hand, but the role of Parliament is not just to put a stamp of approval on whatever the government presents before it. In this supreme legislative forum, laws and policy matters are to be approved after debate and discussion led by the Prime Minister or the relevant minister.

In British democracy, after which this system is modelled, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition regularly attend parliamentary proceedings to make policy and positions statements, and also to respond to members questions. In fact, a weekly half-hour is reserved for ‘Questions to the Prime Minister’.

Instead of running the government in a presidential style, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should follow the best traditions of parliamentary democracy. As the leader of the ruling party and third-time prime minister who has gone through many trials and tribulations, he should know that democracy is as strong as the democratic institutions underpinning the system.

He must show a greater sense of responsibility and respect towards Parliament than has been the case so far.

Source: Business Recorder