Impasse resolved

Updated Dec 14 2018


BETTER sense has prevailed, a welcome decision has been taken, and now the current parliament should quickly turn to its core legislative and oversight responsibilities.

The impasse in parliament has been broken with the PTI government bowing to parliamentary norms and agreeing to install Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

According to media reports, the PML-N has agreed to form a sub-committee that will examine expenditures by the previous PML-N federal government, separating Mr Sharif from scrutiny of public spending by the party that he is now the president of.

Also read: PAC impasse

It is a sensible compromise and it had been mooted early on, but Prime Minister Imran Khan was heedless of parliamentary norms and wrongly viewed necessary parliamentary cooperation with the opposition as a sign of collusion with previous political governments that he fiercely opposed.

Nevertheless, now that Mr Khan has acquiesced and the PML-N has accepted the compromise of a PAC sub-committee, parliament must quickly turn to notifying National Assembly committees and the government should take up its legislative and reforms agenda.

If parliament is to take up its core legislative and oversight responsibilities, there will need to be a change in approach to parliament by both the government and the opposition.

While the PAC chairmanship impasse prevented most parliamentary work from being taken up over the past four months, it has also been apparent that the opposition is all too willing to disrupt parliamentary proceedings by staging frequent walkouts.

Certainly, the onus for keeping proceedings on track is on the treasury benches, but the numbers in the current National Assembly have given the opposition significant clout — by staging walkouts and pointing out the lack of quorum, the opposition can virtually disrupt proceedings at will. That ought to change going forward, unless they are compelling reasons for the opposition to protest.

On the government’s part, a change in attitude is needed. The bruising style of politics seemingly preferred by Prime Minister Khan and the overheated rhetoric PTI ministers and parliamentarians frequently use have combined to create an ill-advised and unsavoury atmosphere inside parliament. There is a need for the PTI to ratchet down the political tensions inside and outside parliament.

Finally, if parliament is to be more effective, it will need better stewardship by the custodians of the two houses. Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaiser has commendably sought to break the impasse in the PAC, but he has yet to stamp his authority on the National Assembly. A firm but fair hand is needed in the speaker’s role if parliament is to be kept on track.

All civilian political sides ought to keep front and centre the goal of strengthening parliament.

A strengthened, effective, well-functioning parliament will go some way to increasing the space for civilians in the constitutional, democratic framework.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2018