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Another authoritarian NA session

The ruling PTI on Thursday once again proved that if the opposition parties do not nod their heads in agreement with it then it will suspend rules of the Parliament House to achieve its goal. This is exactly how the federal government bulldozed the controversial Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 – generally known as the mini-budget – and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021, among 14 others, amid protest and sloganeering from the opposition benches. Both the bills were passed in a haste to meet the IMF’s prior conditions to clear Pakistan’s sixth review of its $6 billion funding programme under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

With a vote of 168 over 150, the federal government and its coalition partners bulldozed one bill after the other, even suspending the rule of 48-hours debate on a new proposed legislation for the SBP bill. It was instead passed in just 48 minutes of it being moved by Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin. Under the chairmanship of Speaker of the NA Asad Qaiser, voting for bills took place hastily in an attempt to pass the bills before the clock struck midnight. As a result, the speaker also ignored calls pointing out the lack of quorum as the rules state a new agenda must be presented with the change of date.

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This is not the first time that Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government has hampered the process of the country’s democracy by bulldozing legislations through the use of the executive decree. The amendments to the Election Act 2017 in November last year were also passed in the same authoritarian manner. From the looks of how proceedings of Thursday’s crucial NA session unfolded, it certainly would also not be the last. Does the ruling party have no patience to take into account diverse points of views for the functioning of a healthy democracy?

The two bills passed in the lower house will change the way economic managers will now stipulate policies in years to come. At least in the near future, the withdrawal of tax exemptions on over 140 items will unleash inflationary pressures for the common people that the governing bodies are elected to serve. The SBP bill, on the other hand, provides complete autonomy to the central bank with its governor being made all-powerful. The opposition leaders were seen pleading at the speaker’s dais to consider holding a debate on the bill but in vain. Thursday’s session should raise alarm bells in the power corridors over PTI’s apathy for lawmaking.


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