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Think tank Sounds Alarm Bells: Democracy’s Vulnerability in Pakistan

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A recent analysis by Pakistan’s prominent newspaper, Daily Dawn, sheds light on the critical state of democracy in the country. The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) observed that the early dissolution of the National Assembly, just days before the completion of its term, has left democracy in a vulnerable position, similar to the conditions during its initial election in July 2018. This article delves into the key findings from the Pildat report, highlighting the legislative activity, governance patterns, and the impact of early dissolution on the democratic process.

 

Legislative Activity and Controversial Bills

 

The 15th National Assembly, during its five-year tenure, passed a total of 279 pieces of legislation, a 45% increase compared to the 14th National Assembly. However, the report notes that the recent flurry of hasty legislation has raised concerns about the erosion of basic tenets of the constitutional scheme of democracy and human rights. While the report doesn’t explicitly mention the controversial “Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill,” it hints at the questionable legislative practices that took place.

 

Change in Governments and Legislative Methods

 

The 15th National Assembly witnessed two distinct governments: the first led by PTI Chairman Imran Khan, and the second formed by a coalition of PDM and PPP with Mr. Shehbaz Sharif as the Prime Minister. Interestingly, the PTI government heavily relied on ordinances for legislation. Out of 75 ordinances laid in the National Assembly during the five years, only three were promulgated by the coalition government, while 72 were promulgated by the PTI government. This disproportionate use of ordinances raises concerns about the legislative process’s effectiveness and transparency.

 

Productivity and Attendance

 

While the 15th National Assembly passed a large number of laws, its overall productivity and attendance raised questions. The assembly was convened for 452 sittings, with an average of 90 sittings per year. This represents a decrease of 9% compared to the previous (14th) National Assembly, which had an average of 99 sittings per year. Furthermore, the analysis highlights the relatively low attendance by the Prime Ministers, with just 11% attendance by Prime Minister Imran Khan and 17% by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. This trend raises concerns about the importance attributed to National Assembly sessions by the executive leadership.

 

Quorum Issues and Conclusion

 

Despite a relatively high average attendance of 61% by MNAs over the past five years, the National Assembly frequently faced quorum issues, with the presence of around 25% of members during sessions. The Pildat analysis suggests that successive prime ministers have given limited importance to the house that elects them, with historical attendance records reflecting this trend.

 

In conclusion, the early dissolution of the National Assembly has raised significant concerns about the state of democracy in Pakistan. The report highlights the need for robust legislative processes, improved attendance by executive leaders, and a greater commitment to strengthening democratic institutions. As the nation looks ahead, addressing these issues is crucial to ensuring a vibrant and resilient democracy for the future.

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