Strong parliament essential for democracy

Press Release, 27 July 2009

Islamabad: The parliament must be made strong and popular with the people if continuation of the democratic system is to be guaranteed. This was the consensus at a consultation with parliamentarians, leaders of political parties and civil society activists from Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP) organized here the other day by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

The participants were unanimous in holding the military’s, especially the intelligence agencies’, interference in political matters as the biggest obstacle to parliament’s supremacy and stability of the democratic system.

There was complete unanimity among the participants on restoration of the 1973 constitution except for certain amendments (voting age, women’s seats, etc)

The participants were also unanimous in calling for due accountability of political leaders and stricter checks on floor-crossing. A call for reducing election expenses and for political parties to award election tickets on merit was also supported.

They agreed that parliament will become strong and play its leading role in promoting democracy if it paid due attention to people’s concerns and gave their interest preference to all other matters.

There was some difference of opinion on the suggestion that religious forces had put unwarranted restrictions on the parliament’s supremacy and therefore the ideal of a secular democracy had to be reaffirmed. One political party was seriously opposed to this formulation.

The main recommendations made by the meeting included:

•    The federal and provincial legislatures should be the only law-making bodies. No other entity/forum should have the power to make laws. The central parliament should avoid encroaching on provinces’ legislative functions.

•    The constitution should be amended to bar any fresh taxation without the parliament’s approval. Parliament should also oversee subordinate legislation, such as rules made under enactments. Non-legislative acts, such as SROs and notifications enjoying the power of law, should always be put on legislatures’ tables.

•    A parliamentary commission should examine all ordinances that have been issued over the past many decades so that they can be validated or dropped under parliament’s authority. No law that has not been made by a competent legislature should be allowed to remain on the statute book for more than four months.

•    No government policy should be adopted without a thorough debate in parliament.

•    Parliament should have a say in the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner, service chiefs, and the judges.

•    The Rules of Business should be approved by the legislature concerned.

•    All international treaties signed by Pakistan as well as reports to the UN must be debated in parliament.

•    The standing committees should be set up within two weeks of the formation of the legislatures and they should meet regularly.

•    The parliament will gain in stature if Senate’s power are increased.

•    The proceedings of legislatures should be published within two weeks of events and in national languages. Each legislature must offer up-to-date information on its website. It should also issue an annual report on its activities.

•    All legislatures should provide space for the articulation of special groups’ (women, minorities) views.

•    The procedure regarding private members’ bills/resolutions should be revised so as to increase their contribution to legislative work.

•    The question hour should be used to provide as much information on the state’s and government’s affairs as possible.

The meeting also called upon the political parties to train their workers in parliamentary proceedings, hold discussion on legislative proposals at the various levels of organisation, exercise their powers of overseeing the work of their government/parliamentary parties and sensitise their following to the demands of participatory democracy.

Prominent among those who attended the Islamabad roundtable were parliamentarians Afrasiab Khatak (ANP), Begum Tehmina Daultana (PML-N), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (PML-N), MNAs Jamila Gillani and Bushra Gohar, former MNAs Latif Afridi, and M. Aslam (Jamat Islami), Punjab Tehrik Insaf leader Asif Khan. Advocates Sher Mohammad (Swat) and Kamran Arif (Peshawar), Mr Amirul Azeem (JI), media and civil society representatives from Punjab, Pakhtunkhwa, tribal areas and Islamabad.

I. A. Rehman
Secretary-General

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