2023: The Year Of The Moth-Eaten Parliament

The Parliament continued to act like a rubber stamp as the few members left on the opposition benches dropped their opposition to bills from the treasury benches

2023: The Year Of The Moth-Eaten Parliament

The outgoing year, 2023, saw many political upheavals in the country. But in the country's seat of power, the National Assembly, political activity seemed to lose its lustre. 

The assembly ran without a significant number of its members while several controversial bills were passed.

The assembly was on track to become only the fourth assembly to complete its tenure in Pakistan's history. But it fell short of that record by three days as its tenure was prematurely terminated.

Opposition-less Parliament

The 15th National Assembly, whose tenure came to an end in 2023, was quite different from all the other assemblies which have preceded it.

For the most part, in the last year, it ran virtually without a major opposition party in the house.

A majority of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) members had resigned or simply did not attend the house after the party had announced to quit en masse from the assemblies in the aftermath of the vote of no-confidence last year saw party chairman Imran Khan get pushed out of power.

Instead of genuine opposition, only some disgruntled and dissenting members of PTI dissidents and some members from the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) kept attending the house and put up a feeble opposition.

An unusual scene was witnessed when some of the opposition members from PTI, who were part of the mass resignation campaign, tried to convince the National Assembly Speaker to allow them to rejoin the Parliament. 

The National Assembly speaker noted that for months, he had waited for these members to return to Parliament or confirm their decision to resign from their seats in person, but they did not show up. But despite their repeated appeals, these lawmakers were told they were no longer welcome in the house.

Consequently, in 2023, the assembly mostly operated without meeting the house's requisite quorum (86 MNAs).

The opposition appeared to be uninterested in legislative business in general and also failed to adequately point out the quorum in the house as bills were pushed through. The opposition often uses the lack of quorum as a weapon to disrupt proceedings for the treasury benches. Still, despite having the opportunity last year, until the house completed its tenure, the opposition failed to point out often enough that the house lacked the minimum required strength to legislate. These record bills were also passed when the assemblies had an incomplete quorum.

Parliament or bills rubber stamp mill

The outgoing year saw the Parliament set a new record for the fastest legislative process, passing a whopping 54 bills in just four days, beating out a record set when the house was in the control of the ousted PTI.

Of the 54 bills passed, the government took the lead by successfully pushing through 35 bills related to establishing private universities. One of these bills was to set up a university with Gwadar in its title but which would be set up in Lahore.

Other major bills passed during the year included the Army Act Amendment Bill 2023, which allowed civilians to be tried in military courts. 

The Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023, the PEMRA Ordinance Amendment Bill 2023, the Press Council Amendment Bill 2023, the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Bill, amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance and others.

A law was also passed on the Toshakhana, wherein government officials will be forbidden from retaining gifts received in official capacity and all such gifts will be submitted in the government gifts store, the toshakhana.

Meanwhile, a controversial bill was introduced in the upper house of Parliament, the Prevention of Violent Extremism Bill. However, the bill was dropped following an uproar because it contained controversial clauses that would help the government ban political parties from contesting in elections.

Premature end

Towards the end of its tenure, debates raged about whether the house would be allowed to complete its tenure.

With clamour from most parties on both sides of the aisle calling for holding the next general elections as early as possible, behind the scenes, there appeared to be a tacit consensus on delaying the next elections given the evolving political situation in the country.

Had former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif decided so, the assembly would have completed its term, and the apex poll regulator, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), would have constitutionally had only 60 days to hold the next elections. 

However, Shehbaz decided to utilise a constitutional and legal provision to end the assembly's tenure prematurely, with the assembly dissolved three days before its scheduled term. The move granted the ECP an additional 30 days to hold polls.