The Irresponsible Legislators

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Source: Irfan Mahmood/APP/Pakistan Today

Even though an overwhelming percentage of the population in Pakistan turn up at the voting booth, most of them would not take the parliament seriously. But why should they if the legislators themselves do not take their job seriously?

The Cybercrime Bill was recently passed in the National Assembly, but according to reports in the media, only 32 members were present in the house.

How the bill was even passed with this sort of roll call is incomprehensible. Odds are that most of the MPs would not have even read the bill. Utterly shameful.

This is probably not the first time that we have seen voting patterns dictated by the party leadership. We have witnessed the entire parliament voting unanimously on significant constitutional amendments. But perhaps that’s because the discipline in our political parties is exemplary.

In any case, should such absenteeism be tolerated?

But what to do with a legislature, whose leader, the Prime Minister himself would hardly visit the house once or twice a year. After all, the executive is the legislator-in-chief of the system, isn’t he?

But honestly, I don’t blame the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers for that. The work of the executive office is completely different from that of the Speaker or the Chairman Senate.

The parliamentary system is inefficient in combining the executive office with the legislature. I seriously don’t think that the Prime Minister or the respective Chief Ministers have the time to bother themselves with the business of the legislature. However, they should have the time to at least answer to the body.

This is why I think the administrative branch should be separate from the legislative branch, as in the Presidential system. But this is not necessarily to assert that the parliamentary system does not work well. However, we know for a fact that our current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, is not one who fits well in the legislature. He would rather be left alone to administer the affairs of the state with his handpicked cabinet.

One way or the other, we will always have a legislature and since people vote to hire legislators in the general election, it is time we should pay more attention to appraising their performance as well.

This is why the public must have access to a parliamentary performance scorecard, to at least help our passive-aggressive urban ideologues to get an idea of what their elected members are up to.

FAFEN is a great institute, which is already doing a great deal of work in this regard, but not a lot of people pay attention to their work. I highly recommend subscribing to their mailing list to get an insight into the daily proceedings of the federal and provincial legislatures.

However, I am not sure that the contribution of a non-profit with limited resources is enough to inform millions of Pakistanis. It is surely insufficient to reach out to a considerable number of the urban population anyway.

This is why the media could possibly work to provide this information to voters. If continuous programming about it sounds too boring, it’s easy to produce the legislative report card and voting record on issues near the general elections. At least that could help generate some anti-incumbency votes. Only this way can our legislators stop taking their jobs for granted.

As for the terrible house rules, the legislature needs to do a much better job in terms of guarding the rights of the citizens through serious legislative deliberation. But on the other hand, they would probably not be able to vote on anything if they keep on waiting for a reasonable quorum.

Democracy is a fragile process, particularly in a country such as Pakistan where a good number has still not accepted the idea wholeheartedly.

Of course, the guardians of democracy are not helping its case much for the people.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Direct Election Reforms Needed in Local Government Polls

Source: dawn.com

Finally, the much-promised local government elections have been held all over Pakistan. The result of these elections is important for pointing out a clear discrepancy in the electoral system. Everyone has been looking at the party tally as in the case of the general elections, but it is at this level that the irony of this system reveals itself so strongly. The citizens of Pakistan cannot even elect their mayors directly, and it is up to their Union Councilors to elect the candidate nominated by their party.

While this form of election is based on the model of the British parliamentary system, direct election reforms for local government have been introduced even in Great Britain. It only makes sense that people have a say in at least the immediate leadership of their town, instead of a majority party decision enforced on them like an insult.

People do deserve a chance to directly elect the person responsible for making executive decisions governing their political jurisdiction. I would go on to argue that the same should be true for the election of legislative representatives and the head of provinces and the federal government. This is why the Presidential system makes more sense in terms of electoral rules and division of power to some people.

However, on the other hand, many people argue that the indirect election makes the election of more intellectual members possible. For a country where the majority of voters agree on establishing an Islamic Republic and would actively oppose a secular movement, this would seem like a good choice. However, indirect election of the mayor does not even make any sense in the current scenario and it is certainly not good for democracy.

The indirect election is primarily an instrument of establishing the authority and control of the party leadership, which almost always dictates votes in the legislature. This form of legislative election kills the freedom of the individual legislator, and in the case of executive election, it becomes an extension of the control of the party leadership in dispensing and spending local government funds.

It is important to understand that executive positions are very individual-oriented. It is probably not very different to evaluating a candidate for a job position. I would argue the same is true for the legislators, but probably those positions could be compromised for the banner of the party ideology on the ballot. This is why at least an exception should have been expected in the case of the election of the mayor.

The local government structure clearly requires further reform, and as pointed out by the MPs of the MQM, warrants more authority and funding as well. Until the local government structure is improved, you cannot expect democracy to flourish at the grassroots and for people to solve their own problems instead of waiting for bureaucratic machinery in a distant capital.

One of the fundamental ways to establish the credibility of the democratic system is to empower people with choices. We need to have faith in the people and have respect for their vote.

The constitutional provision for the direct election of the mayor could go a long way in this regard.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.