Home / Opinion / Parliament is Sovereign — A Myth | S M Zafar

Parliament is Sovereign — A Myth | S M Zafar

RAZA Rabbani, Chairman of the Senate, recently made a statement that “Parliament is sovereign”. Some other Parliamentarians have sung the same song. I wish it was true. Constitution of 1973 defines Pakistan as the Republic and provides a Parliamentary democracy like the one in Great Britain. Over years our leaders have and the Parliamentarians surrendered to convert the republic into oligarchy and the democracy for people into a Government for the elite. The constitution has been turned on its head. The process of decline started from Independence Act 1947, when after Quaid-i-Azam, the then members of Parliament perpetuated themselves for seven years because of a provision in the Act of 1947 that the Constituent Assembly shall also operate as National Assembly and will continue to be so till the Constitution is enforced. Election of the Members shall be held thereafter.

Instead of framing constitution on fast track it was dragged on for years not for national purposes but for personal gain of remaining in power and strengthening their constituencies. Parliament had become so vulnerable that the GG Ghulam Muhammad by an Executive Order dissolved the assembly. Parliamentarians went home and did not exhibit its supremacy. A great and proud nation lost hope and became a laughing stock in the world. Through a very non-democratic process a new Constituent Assembly was elected on indirect basis. 1956 Constitution authored and credited to Chaudhry Muhammad Ali was enforced.

As the Parliamentary form of Government provides for the selection of the Prime Minister and his accountability through vote of no-confidence, the newly elected members of the constituency used this majoritarian rule to their advantage. Groups in the Parliament lobbied to vote a Prime Minister and manoeuvre his ouster one after another who fell like domino. In a short span of two years six Prime Ministers took oath, some of them not more than a month or weeks. Provision of the constitution which ensured a good government was thoroughly abused. Country reached the bottom.

As was obvious to the common man, 1956 Constitution failed to deliver which led to imposition of first Martial Law in Pakistan in 1958 due to mockery of leadership and bad governance. Parliamentarians shared responsibility for this national disaster. I am omitting Ayub’s Presidential Constitution of 1962 which was a Presidential form of Government and the failure of 1962 Constitution was due to different reasons more political than good governance.

After Ayub resigned from his office as the President, Pakistan went through a tortuous history including the break-up of Pakistan. However in a sombre atmosphere and under the leadership of ZA Bhutto a unanimously agreed Constitution of 1973 was enforced. I participated in the completion of the Draft Constitution as Constitutional Advisor nominated by the united opposition. Whereas Constitution did provide a Parliamentary form but on the insistence of Z A Bhutto, it contained an unprecedented provision. A novel brain child of Z A Bhutto which made vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister almost impossible. The right of taking account of the Prime Minister by Parliament and sending him home was taken away. Parliamentarians had to concede this provision in spite of objections, as lifting of Martial Law was conditional on the Constitution being framed. This is the first case of political “Muk Muka”. It set course for Prime Minister to be unaccountable to Parliament. A huge loss of parliament sovereignty to PM (Chief Executive). This novel clause had a sunset provision and finally came to an end. In meantime accountability moved from Parliament to the streets which brought yet another disaster and a Martial Law was imposed in 1977, and a National Leader was hanged after judgment of judiciary.

Adult franchise and political parties constitute the building blocks of any democracy. After the death of Gen Zia-ul-Haq political parties came to life. The leaders of the political parties who understood how important it is to be suprema of the party proceeded to personalise the same. In fact most of them became dynastical. Let us have a quick look. You will meet these god-like leaders in every party. In PPP ZA Bhutto, then Benazir, Asif Ali Zardari and soon Bilawal Zardari; National Awami Party, as it was then known, Wali Khan now Asfand Yar Wali; MQM, Altaf Hussain for life; JUF, Mufti Mehmood and now Maulana Fazl ur Rehman; the patriarch Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi leader of united Muslim League now Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of PML(Q).

In political parties, the boss maintains his position who is elected leader of the party, not through secret votes but by raising of hands. When a particular party gets majority in the Assembly, its boss takes office of Prime Minister also. Balance between the boss of a political party and the prime minister shifts the power base in favour of the boss. The Prime Minister who is also the party leader makes all efforts to get the majority. The idea of fair and free election was given a goodbye and elections got polluted. The process of pollution itself has trajectory starting from Jhurlo to rigging and engineering Dhandli which included the state machinery. Elections lost its credibility and Parliament’s legitimacy became dubious.

Parliament woke up to the situation and constituted a Review Committee in April 2009 consisting of 26 members representing all the political parties in the two Houses. However the bosses of political parties appeared to be cleverer. The Review Committee added a clause in Article 63A of the Constitution that even voting on any amendment to the Constitution, the members must vote according to the dictates of the party leader, violation of which entailed disqualification as a member. This clause took away the freedom of the parliamentarians and the light went off Parliament. I have narrated this uncanny story of the loss of credibility and sovereignty of Parliament in spirit of reform. Although I am on a difficult and an unpopular terrain yet the truth must be disclosed.

— The writer, a prominent lawyer, is former Senator and Chairman, Human Rights Society of Pakistan.


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