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Govt’s Attempt To Rule Through Ordinances Subverts Democracy

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The constitution of Pakistan through Article 89 allows legislation through ordinances. However, it only allows an ordinance to be passed in exceptional circumstances. The article states that the president may promulgate an ordinance when the Senate and National Assembly is not in session, and circumstances exist which make it necessary to take immediate action.

The article does not allow the government to bypass the National Assembly and the senate. However, this is what the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has done in its first year of power. As of this day, the government has issued a total of eleven ordinances, out of which only two were approved by the parliament.

In August, the government issued the contentious Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (Amendment) Ordinance 2019, which waived off half of the outstanding liabilities of the fertiliser, textile, power generation and compressed natural gas (CNG) sectors.

Another particularly controversial ordinance KP Actions (in aid of civil power) Ordinance, 2019 passed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, giving wide-ranging powers to armed officers, including the right to detain a suspect for the period of the ordinance.

The government’s attempts to pass legislation through ordinances has been widely denounced by not just the citizenry, but criticism for the government’s actions has come from the highest quarters of the state.

Recently, Supreme Court’s Justice Qazi Faiz Isa criticised the government’s attempts to rule through ordinances, and said, “What is the need for democracy then? There hasn’t been any debate in parliament on bills.”

The government’s attempts to rule through ordinances is a reflection of the disturbing state of affairs in the country – Parliament is bypassed and decisions are made in a haste.

The need for ordinances only exists when the NA and senate is not in session, or circumstances demand that a law be immediately passed because the country cannot afford to waste time in debates.

It is understandable that the government would try to pass an ordinance relating to amendments in National Counter Terrorism Authority Law, but what circumstances demanded the government to table ordinances like the Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority Ordinance, the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (Amendment) Ordinance 2019, and the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council Ordinance?

The essence of democracy is making decisions through the collective will of the citizenry, which is expressed through its representatives in the parliament. The raison d’être of the parliament is that it would provide a platform for the representatives of the citizenry to engage in debate over the issues that they face.

If the government is attempting to bypass the very reason the parliament exists, it cannot simply claim to be a democratic force nor can the citizens of the country view themselves as existing in a democracy.

With the government’s attempts to avoid debate in the parliament, along with its attempts to suppress criticism through curbs on media and charges of sedition, the space for diversity of opinion is rapidly shrinking.

The cornerstone of every democracy is consultation and debate on matters that pertain to the citizenry of the country, and these principles should be upheld by the ruling governments. Governments must not give in to the desire to impose their will on the people, as doing so is not only an attack on the democratic system that exists within the country, but also the constitution that espouses such ideals. The ordinance culture must end and parliament should be consulted over national issues.

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