Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pakistan: Parliament’s Role in Pakistan’s Democratic Transition

Source: International Crisis Group © 2013

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”.