Parliament House of Pakistan. Photo: Tahir Sultan Bhutta / Wikimedia Commons
Parliament House of Pakistan. Photo: Tahir Sultan Bhutta / Wikimedia Commons

Bypassing Parliament

Governing by ordinance in PTI’s Pakistan.

On 17 November 2021, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) bulldozed 33 bills through a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament with no meaningful discussion. According to most political observers, the joint session symbolised the government's growing insecurity in the face of  an increasingly vocal opposition, as well as fears of internal defections over key legislative amendments. It was also necessitated by the PTI government's inability to introduce two bills on 9 November (one which aimed to prevent politicians from changing parties for seven years, and the other which sought stronger punishment for 'obnoxious remarks' targeting women). Despite having a numerical majority in the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house, the PTI is preventing opposition bills from being put to the vote and sent to the relevant committees, highlighting the shaky ground that the coalition government currently stands on.

That the joint session had to be 'protected' by sergeants-in-arms reveals the coalition government's increasing reliance on non-parliamentary traditions. Given that the PTI has been bypassing Parliament ever since coming to power in 2018, recent events have once again raised questions about whether the party is truly democratic in nature. Perhaps nowhere is this entangled – and conflicting – relationship more visible than in the PTI government's consistent efforts in governing through ordinances rather than via legislation passed through proper parliamentary channels, including committee work and subsequent debates. Since coming into power in 2018, the PTI government has passed 68 ordinances as of  8 November 2021 –  a sharp increase from the 48 ordinances passed between 2013 and 2018 by the government under Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

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