Ordinances replace debate

Published February 23, 2022

THE ECP’s apprehension about the new ordinance that amends the election law is understandable. The controversial move paves the way for parliamentarians and elected office-holders to campaign during elections, making it very easy for the state machinery to be used to influence the outcome of the polls.

It is a prospect that, on the face of it, might appeal to politicians on both sides of the aisle, as it would allow government as well as opposition legislators to canvass for candidates of their choosing in various local bodies, provincial or National Assembly elections. But this, according to the ECP, contravenes the law that assigns the task of framing a code of conduct for the polls to the commission.

Read more: Sherry Rehman lashes out at govt for planned ordinances on social media, election campaigning

And yet, even if this somewhat amoral decision had to be taken, in whatever ‘greater national interest’ the government had in mind, it would have been far more appropriate to at least take on board all stakeholders and evolve a consensus, which might have lent the move a veneer of legitimacy.

Since coming to power in 2018, the PTI has regrettably placed greater reliance on presidential ordinances to bring in laws of its own liking. By one reckoning, this government has introduced more than 75 such measures since 2018. In the same period, 376 bills were laid before the Lower House, of which 108 were passed into law while 126 await the assent of the Upper House.

It is true that the Constitution asserts that if the president is “satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action”, he may promulgate a law through an ordinance. But this provision exists in anticipation of an extraordinary situation and cannot be a substitute for the process of debate, consideration and voting that any draft law put before parliament undergoes.

Unfortunately, bypassing elected representatives to approve a contentious law has become something of a norm for the PTI government. It has been especially apparent in the case of the electoral process and the absence of robust parliamentary discussions on measures to align the conduct of elections with the spirit of democracy.

For instance, the Constitution asserts that the prime minister must consult the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly on ECP nominations. However, the PM’s public refusal to engage with the opposition leader has delayed appointments. Such obduracy leads to situations where key decisions, which are supposed to have the input of all stakeholders, are being made unilaterally.

The reason consultations on key appointments are legally mandated is because it is always better to have the buy-in of all political actors before embarking on a legislative route that is viewed as contentious or difficult. If Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team stop shadow-boxing with the past and look to plot their own course, things would run much smoother.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2022

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