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> PILDAT Overview of the Joint Session of Parliament
   
 
PILDAT Overview
December 14, 2009
Islamabad


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Islamabad, December 14; The importance of the Balochistan Package was demonstrated by the calling of two Joint Sessions of the Parliament (November 24, 2009 and December 7-9, 2009), an event usually reserved for Presidential speeches and other extra-ordinary occasions. It is very healthy that the Government placed these important proposals before the Parliament for debate and review. This is a welcome step and helps establish the superiority and usefulness of the Parliament.

 
 

However, the event was seen by some as an indication of the weaknesses of the current parliamentary system. Turnout was low. According to the National Assembly figures, the attendance of the Parliamentarians stood at a maximum of 307 legislators and a minimum of 175 members during the session on December 07-09, 2009. However, the press reports suggested that the number of legislators present on December 07, 2009 in the sitting fell below 70 by the close of the day. Since the Joint Session was not a part of the parliamentary calendar one may argue that many legislators might have planned other activities. However the National Assembly was scheduled to meet from December 07, 2009 to December, 22 2009, therefore the absence of so many MNAs is somewhat inexplicable. It is for sometime that interest of the legislators in Parliamentary Business both in plenary and committees appears to be waning, which is a cause for concern. The Honourable Speaker and other leaders have also commented on this phenomenon and it continues to be a cause for concern both for the Parliament and the citizens. Political parties can play an important role in exercising greater discipline on their members. The low attendance creates a rather negative image of the Parliament among the citizens.

 
 

The level of debate was also not seen as particularly incisive. Whilst it was clear that the majority of parliamentarians and their parties broadly supported the package, most missed the opportunity to “fine tune” as Senator Raza Rabbani had suggested. Few put forward specific suggestions and most of the discussion was general in nature. Parliamentary parties, in general, did not seem to prepare for the debate or do the necessary homework that this important occasion deserved. However, a broad consensus of support for the package did emerge and the debate indicated that coalition and opposition parties alike will place pressure on the Government to implement and monitor the package’s progress.

 
 

Out of a the current total strength of 448 Parliamentarians (338 in the National Assembly and 100 in the Senate), only 38 or 9 per cent of the members spoke during the Joint Session of Parliament. Out of these 38 legislators 16 per cent spoke from both the PPPP and the PML-N; 21 per cent of the legislators who spoke on the subject were from the PML whereas 8 per cent legislators were from the ANP. 3 per cent of legislator each who spoke during the joint session were from the PML-F; the MQM; the PKMAP the MMA and the BNP-A.

 
 

The Parliament spent 10 hours and 30 minutes in session over the span of the two days or for a little over 5 hours a day on average. The PPPP consumed 13 per cent of the total time whereas the PML-N legislators used 18 per cent of the entire session debate. Speakers from the PML consumed 12 per cent; the National Party Senators took 11 per cent time of the joint session. Legislators from the ANP and the MQM consumed 7 and 5 per cent time respectively of the entire session.

 
 

The suspension of the session for a day due to the sad demise of an MNA once again highlighted the need to re-examine the tradition. While the demise of a member of the house is certainly a sad event and it is befitting to pray for the departed soul and even set aside an hour or so to eulogise the services of the late member, the practice of suspending business for a complete day should be re-examined by the parliamentary leadership. Probably the best homage a house of the parliament can pay to the departed legislator is through relentlessly continuing to work for the mission the late legislator had dedicated his life for.