Pakistan parliament and the legislatives dilemma

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Pakistan parliament and the legislatives dilemma

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In democratic orders, legislation determines a government’s priorities and its ability to enact a legal regime. And yet, astonishingly, nearly 200 days into its first ever government, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf-led ruling coalition has not been able to pass a single law.
This is in complete contrast to the legislative performance of PTI in the five years that it ruled Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province between 2013-18 when it passed a total of 182 laws in 60 months. That’s a healthy average of three laws every month! 
Under Pakistan’s constitution, a federal law comes into effect only when passed by both upper and lower houses of the country’s parliament. In the elections six months ago, PTI managed to form a government at the federal level by cobbling together a simple majority in the lower house, the National Assembly, with the help of three smaller parties.
In the upper house however, PTI and its allies do not have a simple majority and the Senate is ruled by a majority of opposition parties – mainly Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N. So, while PTI can table and pass a bill in the National Assembly, it can’t become a law unless it is also passed by the Senate. The Khan government’s spectacular nil legislative performance in its first six months in power at the federal level is tempered a little by the fact that it has so far been able to table and pass a total of four bills in the National Assembly but none of these have been passed by the Senate. And the fact of the matter is that PTI did not even send the four bills it passed in the National Assembly to the upper house.

In democratic orders, legislation determines a government’s priorities and its ability to enact a legal regime. And yet, astonishingly, nearly 200 days into its first ever government, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf-led ruling coalition has not been able to pass a single law.

Adnan Rehmat

Additionally, the four bills passed in the National Assembly do not relate to any of PTI’s six point first 100-day agenda which centered on transforming governance; strengthening the federation; revitalizing economic growth; strengthen agriculture and conserve water; revolutionize social services and strengthening national security.
But what is really hampering legislation – the primary purpose of parliament – is the politics by PTI, which is leading an aggressive campaign to prosecute key leaders of the previous two ruling parties whom it alleges plundered and bankrupted the country. And yet, the Prime Minister needs the help of these two very parties to underwrite his ambitious legislative agenda. 
While Khan is personally invested in keeping his promise to hold the previous rulers accountable, he has banked on the National Accountability Bureau and the courts to convict them quickly and coerce their parties into helping him legislate. But the strategy has not quite worked out. The accountability cases against his political foes have dragged on for lack of conclusive evidence and the opposition parties have overcome their stupor after their shock defeat in the election and bounced back to needle Khan about his absent legislative agenda. 
Khan seems to have had a rethink and has now made a move to establish the legislative infrastructure to, even if grudgingly, enlist support of his foes to start legislation. After the political logjam that has prevented any legislation, there is now forward movement in the shape of dozens of standing committees on various legislative subjects in the National Assembly in which both government and opposition members can discuss legislative priorities and draft laws.
A committee has also been formed of heads of all political parties in parliament to help cool down political temperatures and encourage parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide to collaborate on legislative agendas and enlist support of the Senate into passing laws and deflect growing criticism of the parliament for failing, as a whole, in its primary task of legislation. 
All is set for chairpersons of the legislative committees to be elected and to draft the very first laws by the new parliament by end of February. Better late than never.
– Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science.
Twitter: @adnanrehmat1

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