The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Isnaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to run the country through presidential ordinances, as it lacks the required majority in the parliament for legislation. The opposition is concerned the government wants to impose the presidential system in the country and bypass the parliament.
The government has failed to legislate in its first 100 days, because it has a bare minimum majority in the National Assembly and it needs the support of all members of allied parties to pass law, while its relations with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement alone are strained, though it is still its coalition partner. Standing committees of the National Assembly have not been formed, as the opposition has boycotted the process after the government refused to appoint Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The situation for the government is even worse in the Senate, where the opposition enjoys almost a two-thirds majority.
Because of this, Prime Minister Imran Khan unveiled his unusual strategy to run the legislative business through presidential ordinances. “Although we have no majority in the Senate to pass legislation smoothly, we will not go for any settlement with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to take their support and would make legislation through ordinances,” he told TV anchors at the Prime Minister’s House in a recent meeting. Asked how the government would ensure legal reforms without the support of the opposition, which had a majority in the Senate, he said entering into a settlement with the opposition meant that corruption cases against their leaders should be closed but he would never go for it. “Accountability is one of the basic points of the PTI manifesto. How can we ignore that former rulers have brought the country under the burden of Rs30 trillion foreign debt and filled their own pockets through money laundering,” he added.
The government plans to make laws for early disposal of civil and criminal cases, ensure rights of inheritance to women and widows. Its proposed legislation also includes creation of a South Punjab province and reforms in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws. Prime Minister Imran Khan hinted at fresh elections if he lost majority in the Punjab after the creation of a new province, which is not possible without the help of the opposition.
The opposition is furious at the prospect of the government running the legislative business through presidential ordinances and said it would block its way in the parliament as the idea is not practicable. The opposition leaders allege the prime minister’s statement showed that he had no knowledge about the Constitution of the country which, after the 18th Amendment, has curtailed the government’s arbitrary powers to use ordinances as an alternative to legislation outside the parliament. Under Article 89(1) of the Constitution, “the President may, except when the (Senate or) National Assembly is in session, if satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action, make and promulgate an ordinance as the circumstances may require”. It says that an ordinance promulgated under the article shall be laid before the National Assembly or the Senate, whichever goes into session first and “shall stand repealed at the expiration of 121 days from its promulgation or, if before the expiration of that period a resolution disapproving” it is passed by any house of parliament “upon the passing of that resolution”. Under the Constitution, an ordinance can only be re-promulgated once as it says “either House may by a resolution extend it for a further period of 120 days and it shall stand repealed at the expiration of the extended period, or if before the expiration of that period a resolution disapproving it is passed by a House, upon the passing of that resolution”.
However, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary has explained that the government will use the option of ordinances for “emergency” legislation only. The opposition believes the government cannot even make legislation through ordinances without its support. It termed the prime minister’s remarks “disrespect and contempt of the parliament and its role in law-making”. It opines the provision of legislation through ordinances is meant only for an emergency situation and it could not be adopted for minor and routine legislation. Former Senate Chairman and PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani feared the rulers had already made the parliament redundant.
Critics say governance through ordinances could be a legal tool for the government but its overuse or use in circumstances other than a genuine emergency will undermine parliament. They say the government should first take the opposition into confidence on the issues of public interest and if fails to garner its support, it could opt for ordinances to push through its legislative and reforms agenda. By not supporting the government on issues of public interest, the opposition will only discredit itself. Ordinances are not durable legislation and they will fail to serve the government’s agenda for long. Under the 18th Amendment, the lifespan of an ordinance cannot be more than two 120-day periods, the second 120 days requiring approval by one of the houses of parliament. The parliament is already at a standstill after the government and the opposition have locked horns on the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, as the government believes Shahbaz Sharif, as the Public Accounts Committee head, cannot hold the previous government of his party accountable. The ordinances will add to tensions in parliament. It would be wise for the government to take along the opposition to run the legislative affairs of the country to enforce its reforms agenda. On the other hand, the opposition will also have to cooperate with the government to amend and pass new laws to replace outdated procedures, which have failed to address basic problems of the people.