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Editorial | Ordinance Culture Is Subverting Democracy, Must End

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Life under the purported administration of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is baffling. We are forced to use the word “purported” because when asked by an anchor during an interview as to why the parliament has become an “ordinance factory”, no less an authority than the President of Pakistan himself responds to that question with a series of questions of his own:

“How will the country run without legislation? Make laws! Why don’t you work?”

He then continues, observing “Kitni afsos-nak keyfiat hai Parliament ki (What a sorry state the parliament is in). Do you agree with me?”

Perhaps the government and its leading lights – including the President of the country, who is a PTI stalwart – seem to believe that such moments of candidness are somehow a sign of openness and a healthy ability to criticize their own administration. However, it is anything but a sign of healthy, open governance.

When top administration figures raise their hands in despair over their own inability to govern, they are, in fact, contributing to a further deterioration of constitutionality, legality and democratic legitimacy. We have seen similar moments of publicly expressed helplessness from the Prime Minister about his unsatisfactory “team”, Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari about her ministry’s failure to uphold its raison d’etre and the former finance minister’s regular predictions of doom for the Pakistani economy at the same time when he was looking for possibilities for foreign investment and sources of investment beyond the usual international financial institutions.

Expressing total helplessness about their own government is not just poor optics for the ruling party. Such an attitude also fuels unfortunate and damaging speculation that decisions are made elsewhere rather than through legal channels and democratic norms. The government will have to heal its relationship with the parliament which is supposed to be its sole source of legitimacy. There will have to be a fundamental change in attitude: a shift from the mindset of an oppositional protest movement to a mature parliamentary force – something which has eluded the ruling party so far. It will also have to do anything it takes to get that theoretically lofty institution of legislation working again – including a working rapprochement with the opposition which has been demonized and hounded so far.

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This will be difficult for an administration led by a Prime Minister with a particularly dismal record for parliamentary attendance – even when compared to the shockingly low attendance record of former PM Nawaz Sharif. But it must be done. Perhaps we can take some meagre comfort in the thought that the President would be likely to agree on this count, even if more concrete measures are beyond him.

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