Pakistan’s Unpredictable Political Struggles
Even by Pakistani standards, where politics and the legislature are never dull, 2022 was an exceptionally turbulent year. Seven years without writing a constitution for the new state (1947-1954) and the departure of the governor general on the day the first constitution was to be formally ratified are only two examples of the shocks our 15 National Assemblies have endured in the previous 75 years (1954). Moreover, 1962 and 1965 saw the formation of Assemblies that lacked the authority to vote on the recurring budget and whose leader was not even a member of the House for an entire three years (1965-1969).
CMLA refused to hand up power
One recalls the period when the chief martial law administrator (CMLA) refused to hand up control of the government to the true Leader of the House, who commanded a majority in the first and last National Assembly of unified Pakistan and was directly elected by adult franchise (1970-1971). Instead, someone who should not have been Speaker of the House at that time was in charge. After the December 1971 events that split the nation, the Assembly was reduced. The Leader of the House, along with the remaining members of the various parties, picked up the pieces of a defeated, demoralized, and directionless nation and delivered a new, unanimously agreed-upon Constitution to a new Pakistan, so restoring the people’s and the troops’ self-respect (1973).
According to most political commentators, we’ve had an Assembly manipulated by the then-incumbent government. It had the dubious distinction of being the shortest-lived Assembly in Pakistan’s history (just four months) in 1977, and its leader, who had led the successful campaign for a universally accepted Constitution in 1973, was ousted by the military and ultimately hanged (1979).
Surprising Facts About Pakistan’s National Assembly
The subsequent years witnessed a non-party-based Assembly, whose weak, party-less head, appointed by the CMLA (who was president), sought a reversal of martial law in his first speech (1985), and one produced through political engineering, according to the public confession of the then-DG ISI (1988).
Before 2022, despite its tumultuous history, the Assembly has never approved a vote of no confidence against a serving House Speaker. Then there was the Assembly, which, according to an affidavit provided by another DG ISI, was formed after shady banker-obtained funds were delivered to the party that went on to win the election with an overwhelming majority (1990). A televised account of a Speaker of the House reading an indictment against the president of the time (1993) has also been recorded in history. This event precipitated the simultaneous resignations of the House Speaker and the president, which the COAS orchestrated. Then came the dissolution of yet another Assembly and the handcuffing of its majority-holding head, who had refused to retire as required by a military general who had stormed into his family quarters with his armed men (1999).
To support the creation of the king’s party government, the Upper House has also witnessed the engineering of forced defections by PPP MNAs to the PPP-Patriots (2002). However, eight years later, an Assembly amended one-third of the Constitution with the agreement of all parties, reversing the majority of revisions made by previous military dictators – and this occurred at a time when the coalition government of the ruling party lacked a majority in the Assembly (2010).
National Assembly Under Siege
Within a year of its election, the subsequent Assembly was besieged by a mob for 126 days (2014). Forgetting their differences, a distressed opposition stood with the Speaker of the House to defend the legislature. As a result, the assembly leader was disqualified for life, not only as a lawmaker but also as a party leader, despite the law not stipulating such a ban (2017). The military advised the House Speaker to employ “peaceful methods” when he requested troops to protect the capital on the orders of a superior court (2018). And we witnessed the formation of an Assembly whose leader had stated that acts of parliament and the nation’s annual budgets were only enacted in the Assembly when ‘agencies’ dragged the illustrious members of the august House into the chamber to vote (2018-April 2022).
Vote of No Confidence
Even with such a historic, conflicted, and melancholy history, the Assembly had never before 2022 voted a vote of no confidence against an incumbent House leader. The most extraordinary event occurred on April 10, 2022, via an utterly constitutional document, by the Constitution and Assembly regulations.
It is a continuing argument, and daily, incredibly illuminating stories emerge. For example, questions are being raised as to whether the PDM-led opposition in the National Assembly, with several seasoned politicians in its ranks, made the fateful decision to remove the Leader of the House — despite advice given publicly against the move — on their own when the Assembly was well into its penultimate year, The harmful effects of such a move could have been easily foreseen, or whether the coalition, delighted with the establishment cozying up to them, were pushed into undermining the Speaker. It is an evolving story, and people are still determining where the events after the no-trust vote will lead this country, but rarely has a parliamentary year been so dominated by a single mega-event.
Ineffective National Assembly of Pakistan
As a corollary, the National Assembly met for 20% fewer hours this year yet enacted 66% more bills than the previous three years’ average. The attendance of MNAs decreased by a staggering 40 percent, primarily due to the absence of PTI members whose resignations were still pending before the Speaker. This year, 68 percent fewer ordinances were presented to the Assembly, reflecting a more democratic legislative trend. On the other hand, the PM’s attendance increased by 9 percent, partly because the average attendance over the previous three years was about 10 percent. Parliament, the repository of public will, could be more effective. All politics, arguments, and policy formulations are conducted behind closed doors. Despite all these years, Pakistani politics did not adopt a robust democratic culture. Nonetheless, all political parties and stakeholders must recognize that a strong and resilient parliament is the solution to all the political unpredictability that currently pervades Pakistani politics.