Debate, not ordinances

Published January 13, 2021Updated January 13, 2021 06:21am

LAW Minister Farogh Naseem has defended the frequent use of presidential ordinances in parliament, saying it is something that is not illegal. Speaking in the Senate, the law minister lamented the opposition’s non-cooperation over legislation, and said that even legislation dealing with issues of national interest had to be taken to a joint session of parliament. His line of argument is unfortunate. Justifying the excessive use of ordinances for legislation does not reflect well on the government. It points to a certain parliamentary insecurity that suggests that the government does not want to put in the effort to muster support for its legislation by engaging the opposition and trying to persuade it on the merits of the bill, or to garner sufficient traction on the floor of the house through an informed debate. Issuing an ordinance bypasses these processes and also dilutes the efficacy of parliament. As it is, the performance of this parliament has left a lot to be desired. Since its first day it has been plagued with conflict. On the floor of both the National Assembly and the Senate, legislation has been subsumed under a deluge of political noise. Prime Minister Imran Khan — despite having committed himself to regular attendance and participation in question hour — has opted to remain absent, thereby signalling a de-prioritisation of parliament as a whole. This has taken a toll on the performance of parliament. Political discourse has now shifted away from this central platform to more visible avenues such as rallies, press conferences and television talk shows. The parliamentary committees may have fared slightly better, but not by much. Here too the serious work of discussing, debating and drafting bills has often fallen victim to partisan politicking. The result has been a dilution of legislation.

After the Senate elections in March, it is expected the government will have a majority in both houses, which means it will be in a comfortable position to get its laws passed and would have no need to resort to ordinances, which must in any case be strongly discouraged. But even if its numbers increase in parliament, the government would be well advised to review the principles of democracy which rest not only on majority consensus but also on genuine debate and engagement with those who have a different viewpoint. It is only by reaching out across the aisle that the government can gain deeper knowledge of how a particular law would benefit the electorate.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2021

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