Undermining the NA

Updated November 09, 2019

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THE optics couldn’t have been worse for a government that is already facing a huge protest.

On Thursday, the PTI forcibly completed the formality of running 11 ordinances past the National Assembly. It took the treasury only a few minutes to get the job done as the deputy speaker played the role of a partisan referee, ignoring the opposition protestations.

On a day of truly shameful events, the person technically in charge of this do-it-yourself-exercise, the prime minister, held a meeting with his party legislators and then was in his chamber throughout. Even if he hadn’t taken the trouble to turn up at the house that gives him his powers, there was little doubt that the rush to pass the ordinances enjoyed his full blessings.

This was truly in keeping with PTI tradition which attaches little respect to those who make up parliament. For the ruling party, all who oppose it in the assemblies are relics of a corruption-filled past that Prime Minister Imran Khan is keen to rid this country of. This line is applied to justify everything the PTI government takes up, including the passage of presidential ordinances.

The laws promise a profound impact. Among them is one that replaces the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council with the Pakistan Medical Commission, which has kicked up a heated debate. Another seeks to protect whistle-blowers reporting benami properties and assets, while one more focuses on the rights of women to own property.

For long, the people have asked for simplifying the process of issuing a succession certificate, which is what one of the new laws is aimed at. ‘Establishment of legal aid and justice authority to provide justice to the poor and vulnerable segments of society’ is the stated purpose of yet another law in this set, which again sounds like a good cause. But a cause worth pursuing must first appear worth discussing.

The imposition of legal provisions the way it has been done in this case — and under previous governments as well — smacks of a dictatorial disposition the country can ill afford, especially in these times of increasing polarisation.

The president should never have issued these ordinances, and if somehow he committed that error, the National Assembly should have been allowed to stamp respectability on these proposed laws by debating them.

It is clear that the ruling party has led a successful campaign against its opponents in parliament. It has exposed the opposition members to public scrutiny and any act on their part that is seen as compromising improvements in the system can easily land lawmakers belonging to the anti-Imran Khan camp on the wrong side of the people.

The PTI has evidently betrayed its lack of confidence or it wouldn’t have looked for ways to undermine parliament.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2019