Bulldozing Parliamentary Values: How PTI Govt Is Rushing Legislation Through National Assembly
On June 10, a much awaited National Assembly session was held where the ruling PTI presented as many as 21 bills and got them passed on the same day in a terrible travesty of parliamentary norms. The Opposition, fragmented outside of the house, seemed united inside when it strongly protested the undue and unnecessary haste in passing the legislation and suspending the rules of the business of the house.
The Deputy Speaker, despite ruckus and opposition’s act of pointing lack of quorum thrice, declared house in order and continued business. Seeing the house running in an unprecedented way, the opposition members submitted a no-confidence motion to the NA Secretariat against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, for alleged “abusive disregard” of the assembly rules, “collaborating illegally with the treasury members to move the bills that had not been sent to the committees” and for disregarding with mala fide the opposition’s call for quorum.
This is how the incumbent PTI is running the parliament and making laws. The NA doesn’t meet quite often these days under the hybrid regime, and if it does, the government rushes to get its bills passed through bulldozing rules, norms and parliamentary values.
The government presented several bills during the ongoing NA session including the controversial Election (Amendment) Bill 2020 and a bill related to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to provide right of appeal to him. Both of the bills were extremely important as they were not only related to future politics of the country but are linked with the national security, too.
The PTI has rejected all the recommendations of the Opposition altogether in the Election Bill. There is a vivid history how political parties have gone into blame each other, let alone establishment, after the election result start pouring in. The winning parties have been calling elections fair and transparent; the losing parties have been calling the same polling sham, rigged and, at times, took to streets, just as PTI did after losing 2013 general elections. Yet, the PTI didn’t bother taking into account the tarnished post-elections history and thrown all of the opposition’s suggestions away.
The likelihoods of the bill, if it gets Senate’s nod too, being challenged in the Supreme Court are high as the Opposition parties won’t let this bill enacted easily. On the issue of electronic voting machines (EVMs), all leading parties have already shown displeasure citing probabilities of machines getting hacked easily and tempering in the vote count, among others. The opposition objected to the elections (amendment) bill, saying for the first time in the country’s history electoral reforms were being carried out without a national consensus.
Likewise, the government-backed bill, ICJ (Review and Re-consideration) Bill 2020, that will provide the right of appeal to Indian death-row prisoner Kulbhushan Jadhav, is highly significant. The proposed law will allow foreign nationals to file an appeal themselves or through their country’s mission against their military court convictions. Thus the bill, if it gets passed from the Senate too and becomes law, will allow Jadhav to appeal his conviction in the civilian court. Criticizing the government’s move, lawmakers questioned the haste and alleged that the government had included the bill in the heavy legislative agenda to provide relief to Jadhav.
Critics also raised a point that when the country’s law allowed high courts to review the sentences awarded by military courts then what was a new law needed. The opposition therefore termed it as a person-specific bill. Speaking on the government’s behalf, Law Minister Farogh Nasim however, shed light on the importance of the bill and said that it was being passed in the light of the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which had asked Pakistan to make effective legislation to provide the right of review to Jadhav. Had they (government) not passed the bill, India would have gone to the UN Security Council and moved contempt proceedings against Pakistan in the ICJ, Nasim added.
A key performance indicator for any government is how well it does in the parliament, the sacred law-making institution of the country. For a bill to become law, it must go through a process of debate, be further scrutinized, and if needed, assessed by a special committee of the house, before it can be voted and ratified. The PTI government seems to be either unfamiliar or deliberately dumping the much needed consensus needed for law making.
Until February this year, the PTI government made 92 laws of which 51 were Ordinances, which means more than half of the law-making in the country has been done after bypassing the parliament. Like its other tall promises, PTI has long been vying for introducing true parliamentary and democratic norms in the country. Yet, it has made the law making a joke.
The hybrid regime is running on ventilators of ordinances and bills made in haste may one day backfire. Bypassing parliament and the opposition may further divide the society as a whole.