LACK of quorum has become a chronic problem for the present National Assembly which is in the process of becoming a redundant institution. Friday was the fifth consecutive day that the chair adjourned the sitting for the same reason —within minutes of the start of proceedings. The quorum issue has already marred the proceedings of the entire first week of the fourth parliamentary year of the Assembly. This should be embarrassing for the government, but there is no such realisation in the ruling party. It is also a matter of concern that this should be happening at a time when the fourth Assembly is moving towards the completion of its five-year term. In its report on the completion of the third parliamentary year of the National Assembly, Pildat, an independent forum focusing on democracy and governance in Pakistan, stated that the Lower House “failed to see any improvement in the attendance of members, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, as 24 out of the 79 total sittings were adjourned due to lack of quorum”.
It appears that the lawmakers have lost interest and faith in the institution perhaps because of the government’s heavy dependence on ordinances instead of parliament for lawmaking and taking key policy decisions on other forums. Although ensuring quorum — for which the presence of 86 members, or one-fourth, of the 342-member House is required — is primarily the responsibility of the government, the opposition has frequently used the lack of it as a means of disrupting proceedings even during Question Hour. It is time for Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene in his capacity as the Leader of the House. If he himself does not have time for parliament, he must at least issue directives to his ministers and the party’s chief whip to ensure the presence of at least the required number of members to keep the parliamentary system functional and prevent the alienation of Pakistanis from the democratic process which may well be the wish of certain elements that are against democracy.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2021