15th National Assembly Defies Challenges with Impressive Legislative Productivity

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The 15th National Assembly of Pakistan, despite complex political, economic, judicial and constitutional challenges, showcased a notable resilience to withstand the pressures on its existence and supremacy before completing its tenure on August 9, 2023, wielding legislative productivity that surpassed its three predecessors

15th National Assembly of Pakistan: The Hallmark And The Spirit

Despite 11 percent fewer sittings, the legislative output of outgoing Assembly grew by 57 percent to a total of 322 pieces of legislation as compared to the 14th National Assembly, which had passed 205 bills. The 13th Assembly had passed 134 bills and 12th Assembly only 51 bills during their respective terms. The generous approval of the private members’ bills also remained a hallmark of the outgoing Assembly, exhibiting collaborative spirit that steered the coalition government. More than 30 percent of the approved legislation (99 bills) was initiated by private members and the remaining by the government.

The legislative productivity was not the sole distinction of the 15th Assembly that also saw a first-ever successful vote of no confidence against a Prime Minister, resulting in the change of government. Previously, two Prime Ministers faced voting on resolutions of no-confidence against them including Ms. Benazir Bhutto in 1989 and Mr. Shaukat Aziz in 2006. Both of them were able to retain their majority in the Assembly. Moreover, the outgoing Assembly was the first since 1977 to be dissolved voluntarily by the Leader of the House (Prime Minister) before the completion of its term. Except for 1993 when the Assembly was dissolved under an arrangement with the establishment that saw both the President and Prime Minister resigning, all other preterm dissolutions were compelled by the Presidential use of infamous Article 58 (2)(b).

The Bulk of Legislation

A government-wise disaggregation of the approved bills shows the bulk of legislation (54 percent) was made during the 16-month tenure of PML-N led coalition government while PTI government oversaw the rest 46 percent of the legislation in its three-and-half-year of rule. Nearly one third of the government legislation approved by the House during PTI government’s tenure originated as presidential ordinances. Of the government legislation, 200 bills were initiated by male ministers and 26 by female ministers. Among the private members’ bills passed by the House, 63 were initiated by male lawmakers and 29 by female lawmakers, while the remaining seven were jointly sponsored.

The Assembly recorded 1,310 hours and 47 minutes of on-floor proceedings during its 52 sessions comprising 442 sittings in 687 working days. The Assembly proceedings, however, remained suspended for 122 hours 11 minutes due to various reasons such as lack of quorum, prayer breaks, etc. Approximately two-thirds of the Assembly sittings (equivalent to 67 percent) and working hours (amounting to 63 percent) were completed during the PTI government’s tenure, which ended on April 9, 2022. The remaining one-third of the sittings, along with 37 percent of the total working hours, were conducted during the tenure of the PML-N-led coalition government. The Speaker Asad Qaiser presided over 40 percent of the proceedings himself during his term as Speaker. The Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri chaired nearly 39 percent of the proceedings while members of the Panel of Chairpersons presided over the rest of 21 percent proceedings. On the other hand, the Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf chaired 53 percent proceedings himself. His Deputy Zahid Akram Durrani chaired 29 percent proceedings and members of Panel of Chairpersons 19 percent.

5th National Assembly of Pakistan: Between The Two Prime Ministers

Prime Minister Imran Khan attended nine percent of the sittings while Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif attended 17 percent sittings during their respective tenures as premier. The Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif attended 27 percent sittings while the Leader of the Opposition Raja Riaz attended 40 percent of the sittings during the time they held the office.

The lawmakers’ attendance showed a declining trend over the period of five years with annual average attendance falling from 250 (73 percent) legislators per sitting during first year to 117 (34 percent) lawmakers per sitting during the last year. The declining trend of attendance during the last two years can be attributed mainly to the en-masse resignations of PTI lawmakers form the Assembly. The lawmakers pointed out the lack of quorum 131 times during 108 sittings. As many as 96 sittings had to be adjourned due to lack of quorum during the five years. The Assembly witnessed 74 instances of on-floor protests by lawmakers that lasted for a cumulative duration of 34 hours and 54 minutes.

Research and education emerged as a primary legislative focus of the outgoing Assembly, with 69 bills centered around this theme. Notably, 62 bills were approved to grant or amend the charters higher education and research institutions. Economic, financial, and trade matters ranked as the second most legislated subject, resulting in 63 bills covering areas such as FATF regulations, ease of doing business, taxation, and fiscal matters.

The administration of justice was another priority theme in legislation with 33 bills concerning the superior and lower courts, prosecution services and penal provisions. The Assembly passed 28 laws encompassing the rights of children, women, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and the elderly. The Assembly also abolished the death penalty for specific offenses and criminalized enforced disappearances and custodial torture.

A significant portion of legislation, 19 bills, was aimed at introducing changes in the organizational structure and functioning of various public institutions. The remaining legislation included 16 bills on health governance, 12 on defense and anti-terrorism related matters, 11 on religious affairs, eight each on anti-corruption & accountability, energy-related matters and parliamentary affairs, seven on foreign affairs, six each on aviation, elections and media-related subjects, five each on housing & real estate sector and maritime affairs, four on labour and employment issues, and eight on miscellaneous subjects including social welfare, culture and local governance.

Hurrying The Bills

As was witnessed during previous assemblies, the legislative procedure was occasionally truncated during the term of 15th National Assembly to approve certain bills instantly without affording the members reasonable time to go through the contents of the bills. At least 58 of the bills including 21 government and 37 private members’ bills were passed either on the same day or within three days of their introduction in the House. Under the sub-rule 2 of the Rule 123 of the National Assembly Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business 2007, at least two clear days shall intervene between the day of supply of copies of the Bill to the members and the day for setting down the bill for consideration. However, the Assembly may forego this requirement through a motion to this effect, which was the case for the bills that were instantly passed. As many as 16 of these were passed during the PTI government and 42 during the PML-N-led government.

The House also adopted 152 resolutions during five years giving recommendations to the federal government or expressing its opinion on a range of issues encompassing human rights, foreign affairs, administration of justice, law and order, issues of governance, and political and international developments. A majority of these resolutions (58 percent) were sponsored by the government ministers, 24 percent by the private members while the remaining 18 percent were jointly moved by the government and private members.

The lawmakers kept a close vigil on the executive by raising 9,765 questions, moving 423 Calling Attention Notices, and seeking discussions on matters of public importance through 478 motions under Rule 259. During the five years, 202 lawmakers of 12 parliamentary parties, including 55 women and 147 men, exercised their right to ask questions on the floor of the House. Women MNAs asked 3,503 (36 percent) questions while men 6,262 (64 percent) questions. The government replied to 7,008 (72 percent) questions while remaining questions remained unaddressed during the term of the 15th National Assembly.

Of 423 CANs submitted during five years, the House took up 249 (59 percent) CANs during the proceedings and sought government response on the issues of public importance. However, the House debated only 12 Motions under Rule 259 as concerning economic conditions in the country (2018), Sahiwal incident (2019), Indian actions in illegally occupied Kashmir (2020), economic conditions in the country (2020), COVID-19 pandemic (2020), agriculture policy of the government (2020), motorway rape incident (2020), privatization of state owned enterprises (2020), inflation (2021), floods in parts of the country (2022), and political situation in the country (2023).

The 15th National Assembly also approved amendments to its Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business providing for mandatory playing of national anthem and recitation of hadith before the commencement of each sitting; establishing multiple standing committees for ministries comprising more than one division; barring the arrest of a member of National Assembly accused of an offence without the Speaker’s permission; constitution of the Committee of Whole House; empowering the Standing Committees’ Chairpersons to independently set the committee meeting’s agenda; and, mandate the suspension of proceedings at the time of Azaan.

During five years of the Assembly, all members barring seven participated in the Assembly proceedings at least once by sponsoring an agenda item or orally participating in a discussion on floor of the House. The seven lawmakers, however, neither submitted any agenda nor had they participated in the debates. As many as four of the non-participating lawmakers belonged to PTI, two to PPPP and one to PML.

Like its predecessor, the outgoing Assembly had to elect the Prime Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker twice during its five years. These elections were necessitated by the change of government after the removal of former prime minister through a resolution of no confidence. Moreover, the President Republic of Turkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed the joint sitting of the Parliament during the second year of the outgoing Assembly.

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