Despatch from Pakistan | International

Legislating in a hurry after judicial order

A general view of the Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan.

A general view of the Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan.   | Photo Credit: AKHTAR SOOMRO

Three Bills extending the tenure of service chiefs waltzed their way through the Pak. Parliament

Earlier this month, both Houses of Pakistan’s Parliament passed three Amendment Bills pertaining to the appointment and tenure of the service chiefs and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The Bills raised the retirement age of the service chiefs and also enabled the Prime Minister to extend their terms.

Some commentators said they had never witnessed Bills getting passed so quickly — with only a handful of ‘Nos’ from smaller Opposition parties. The two main Opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) supported the Bills and voted in favour of them. The PML-N’s unconditional support even led the PPP to withdraw its suggested amendments to the Bills. President Arif Alvi later signed the Bills into Act.

Earlier, in November 2019, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had taken up a petition related to the Army chief’s extension. A three-year extension to the chief had earlier been notified by the Prime Minister’s Office in August. The Supreme Court found procedural issues with the notification and gave a six-month conditional extension, also directing Parliament to legislate on it. The new Bills bar the judiciary from challenging extensions granted by the executive to the military chiefs.

Blackmailed into submission

Both the PPP and the PML-N have been severely criticised by their supporters for backing the Bills. Some commentators believe these parties were pressured or blackmailed into submission while others believe they were promised their share of the pie in return.

“The Opposition is in quite a disarray, especially the PML-N. They are in a state of despair because the decisions taken by their leadership are either being contradicted or disputed. It goes totally against the narrative that they had developed successfully. It will take some time for them to recover from this loss,” said Senator Shibli Faraz of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the PPP told The Hindu that in a visibly constricted space, the PPP pushed for the law to be debated and was principally opposed to legislation being rushed through the Parliament but found no support for its stance among other Opposition parties. ”The PML-N’s unconditional support to the government rendered the effort meaningless.”

Senior PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah told The Hindu that in his opinion, the PML-N was unable to resolve this issue democratically and in a parliamentary way. He said the government was in such haste that an emergency session was called, which made the other parties to behave in a cautious and careful way.

While he couldn’t go to the PML-N’s parliamentary party meeting, Mr. Sanaullah feels that they should have had a debate on this within the party and also with other Opposition parties. The PML-N’s unconditional support to the Bill without taking Opposition parties into confidence has upset the PPP and JUI-F.

‘Climate of uncertainty’

PTI Senator Shibli Faraz said the Bill was presented quickly because of the sensitive nature of the post. “This couldn’t be dragged on in a climate of uncertainty. That is why it was important to settle this issue as soon as possible.”

Rana Sanaullah said he understood the reasons for the PML-N’s resentment. “Our party took this decision without taking our voters into confidence but I feel that this is good in a way. Public outrage over our decision to vote this way demonstrates that this is indeed a democracy and the voters want the politicians to be accountable for their decisions. This is actually the manifestation of ‘vote ko izzat do’ (honour the vote), as the public is showing their concern so this gives me hope.“ Mr. Sanaullah said that in the past, voters wouldn’t have reacted to such a decision by a party but now they want answers as the party has deviated from its narrative. “The PML-N has learnt its lesson — that the public should be consulted and party decisions should be conveyed to the public in a proper and better way instead of being taken unilaterally.” He said that when the Prime Minister gave an extension to the Army chief in August 2019, no party opposed this decision. It was only when the Supreme Court took up the issue and it was sent to Parliament to legislate did the public react.

However, the repudiation of Mr. Khan’s decision by the Supreme Court is being seen by many as a searing indictment of his own government. “The Imran Khan government — already a baggage — is of no use to the masters anymore. Period,” said a senior politician.

The author is a journalist based in Lahore

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 1:31:10 PM |

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