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Parliament's Role in Pakistans Democratic Transition

Parliament's Role in Pakistans Democratic Transition

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To consolidate democracy, Pakistan’s new parliament needs institutional reform and strong cross-party determination to fend off an interventionist military and over-reaching judiciary.
In its latest report, Parliament’s Role in Pakistan’s Democratic Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the challenges facing a legislature still striving for full democratic sovereignty. In the midst of a security crisis, lingering extremism and a weakening economy, its authority is tested from many directions. Yet, the opportunities to consolidate democracy are real and legislative tools to address institutional challenges are more sophisticated than ever.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

The experience of the thirteenth National Assembly (2008-2013) demonstrated that threats to democracy from an interventionist military, ambitious judiciary and unreformed bureaucracy continue. The second phase of the democratic transition, now underway, offers opportunities to entrench parliamentary democracy.
The new parliament must remove constitutional distortions put on the books by past military regimes, particularly Islamisation provisions that continue to undermine its authority. Parliament also needs to exercise more oversight of the executive branch, including the security apparatus.
Parliamentary standing committees should enhance their capacity to oversee the budget and legislation, lead inquiries into government performance, hold officials to account and engage civil society in the legislative process. But for parliament to fulfil its potential, its members will require much more research, analytical and technological support.
The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should reinforce parliamentary sovereignty by ending practices that circumvent the legislature. The opposition will be better placed to regain power eventually if it behaves as an effective government-in-waiting in parliament, presenting alternative policies, budgets and other legislation, rather than merely obstructing ruling-party proposals and bills.
“The recent reforms, particularly the eighteenth constitutional amendment that removed many of the distortions of the Musharraf military regime and enhanced fundamental rights, have strengthened parliamentary democracy but failed to remove some of the constitutional distortions of the past”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser and Project Director for South Asia. “To become more dynamic and assume its role as a co-equal branch of government, the new parliament should build on its predecessor’s steps, putting itself at the centre of the domestic and foreign policy debate”.

“By consolidating the gains of the past five years and enacting long overdue legislative reforms, the new parliament can take a vital part in sustaining Pakistan’s democracy”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Program Director for Asia. “However, if the ruling party and its parliamentary opposition use the legislature as a forum for settling political scores, those gains will soon be lost, as will the prospects of the country continuing to move along the democratic path”.
To consolidate democracy, Pakistan’s new parliament needs institutional reform and strong cross-party determination to fend off an interventionist military and over-reaching judiciary.
In its latest report, Parliament’s Role in Pakistan’s Democratic Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the challenges facing a legislature still striving for full democratic sovereignty. In the midst of a security crisis, lingering extremism and a weakening economy, its authority is tested from many directions. Yet, the opportunities to consolidate democracy are real and legislative tools to address institutional challenges are more sophisticated than ever.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

The experience of the thirteenth National Assembly (2008-2013) demonstrated that threats to democracy from an interventionist military, ambitious judiciary and unreformed bureaucracy continue. The second phase of the democratic transition, now underway, offers opportunities to entrench parliamentary democracy.
The new parliament must remove constitutional distortions put on the books by past military regimes, particularly Islamisation provisions that continue to undermine its authority. Parliament also needs to exercise more oversight of the executive branch, including the security apparatus.
Parliamentary standing committees should enhance their capacity to oversee the budget and legislation, lead inquiries into government performance, hold officials to account and engage civil society in the legislative process. But for parliament to fulfil its potential, its members will require much more research, analytical and technological support.
The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should reinforce parliamentary sovereignty by ending practices that circumvent the legislature. The opposition will be better placed to regain power eventually if it behaves as an effective government-in-waiting in parliament, presenting alternative policies, budgets and other legislation, rather than merely obstructing ruling-party proposals and bills.
“The recent reforms, particularly the eighteenth constitutional amendment that removed many of the distortions of the Musharraf military regime and enhanced fundamental rights, have strengthened parliamentary democracy but failed to remove some of the constitutional distortions of the past”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s Senior Adviser and Project Director for South Asia. “To become more dynamic and assume its role as a co-equal branch of government, the new parliament should build on its predecessor’s steps, putting itself at the centre of the domestic and foreign policy debate”.

“By consolidating the gains of the past five years and enacting long overdue legislative reforms, the new parliament can take a vital part in sustaining Pakistan’s democracy”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Program Director for Asia. “However, if the ruling party and its parliamentary opposition use the legislature as a forum for settling political scores, those gains will soon be lost, as will the prospects of the country continuing to move along the democratic path”.

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Published by: International Crisis Group on Sep 19, 2013
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Parliament’sRole inPakistan’sDemocraticTransition
Asia Report N°249
| 18 September 2013
International Crisis Group
Headquarters
 Avenue Louise 1491050 Brussels, BelgiumTel: +32 2 502 90 38Fax: +32 2 502 50 38brussels@crisisgroup.org
 
Table of Contents
Executive Summary ................................................................................................................... iRecommendations..................................................................................................................... iiiI.
 
Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 1
 
II.
 
Curbs on Parliamentary Sovereignty ............................................................................... 3
 
 A.
 
Islam and Moral Policing ........................................................................................... 4
 
B.
 
Judicial Interpretation and Parliamentary Sovereignty ........................................... 5
 
III.
 
The Thirteenth National Assembly (2008-2013)............................................................. 9
 
 A.
 
Restoring Parliamentary Democracy......................................................................... 9
 
B.
 
The 2013 Elections: Missed Opportunities ............................................................... 12
 
IV.
 
Strengthening the Legislature .......................................................................................... 17
 
 A.
 
Parliamentary Committees ........................................................................................ 17
 
B.
 
Bringing the Public to Parliament and Parliament to the Public .............................. 21
 
C.
 
Shaping the Policy Debate ......................................................................................... 23
 
Public expenditure ............................................................................................... 24
 
1.
 
Taming the bureaucracy ....................................................................................... 26
 
2.
 
Holding the judiciary at bay ................................................................................. 28
 
3.
 
Law and order....................................................................................................... 28
 
4.
 
Human rights ....................................................................................................... 30
 
5.
D.
 
The Parliamentary Opposition .................................................................................. 32
 
 V.
 
Parliament’s Human and Technical Resources ............................................................... 34
 
 VI.
 
Conclusion ........................................................................................................................ 37
 
 APPENDICES A.
 
Map of Pakistan ................................................................................................................ 38B.
 
Glossary ............................................................................................................................ 39C.
 
 About the International Crisis Group .............................................................................. 40D.
 
Crisis Group Reports and Briefings on Asia since 2010 .................................................. 41E.
 
Crisis Group Board of Trustees ........................................................................................ 44
 
International Crisis Group
Asia Report N°249 18 September 2013
 Executive Summary
Because of repeated direct or indirect authoritarian interventions during Pakistan’shistory, its parliaments have either been absent, short-lived or rubber stamps for themilitary’s policies, their proceedings hollowed out and meaningless. Even under civil-ian rule, an overactive judiciary has repeatedly encroached on parliamentary prerog-atives, while the executive branch has dominated the governance agenda; legislativeadvice and consent has been more a matter of form than substance. Five and a half  years after the democratic transition began in February 2008, the legislature is stilldeveloping its institutional identity. The thirteenth National Assembly (2008-2013),led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was far more assertive. Some of the mostprominent committees exercised their authority to oversee the executive and to en-gage the public. But the political system will remain unstable so long as the legacy of military rule is kept alive. The current legislature must resume the unfinished work of democratic reform if it is to fully restore parliamentary sovereignty and stabilise a volatile polity.The 2013 elections and their aftermath marked the first-ever transition from oneelected government to another, 40 years after the 1973 constitution established a fed-eral parliamentary democracy. While the previous parliament missed many oppor-tunities for reform, it nevertheless passed major legislation to restore democraticgovernance. It also represented an era of bipartisan cooperation that was unlike the vendetta-driven, winner-take-all politics of the 1990s democratic interlude.The key achievement of the thirteenth National Assembly was the eighteenth con-stitutional amendment, passed unanimously in April 2010. This removed many of the constitutional distortions of General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime, enhancedfundamental rights and laid the foundations for more transparent and accountablegovernance. Its most consequential provision was the devolution of power from thecentre to the provinces, addressing a longstanding political fault line that had largely contributed to the country’s dismemberment in 1971. The shift towards greater co-operation across the aisle also helped ensure the survival of a fragile political order thatfaced constant challenges from an interventionist military and a hyperactive judiciary.The second phase of the democratic transition now underway offers opportuni-ties to entrench parliamentary democracy. With incumbents losing at the centre andin all but one province in the 2013 elections, the parties now in power at the federaland provincial levels, particularly Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N),must prioritise governance and deliver on campaign pledges if they are to retain theirpositions. The opposition parties, too, should realise that they will be better placedto unseat their political rivals if they are an effective government-in-waiting in par-liament, presenting alternative policies, budgets and other legislation, rather thanmerely obstructing ruling party proposals and bills.If the legislature is to respond to public needs and also exercise oversight of the ex-ecutive, it must reinvigorate the committee system that was largely dormant duringMusharraf’s military regime. While several important committees were far more activein the previous assembly, pursuing official misdeeds and even questioning the mili-tary’s role in the polity, legislation was not enacted to provide for parliamentary au-thority to hold the security apparatus, including its intelligence agencies, accountable.

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