The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) is a nationwide coalition of 35 civil society organizations working to strengthen all forms of democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. Currently, FAFEN is implementing the Democratic Governance Programme in 150 National Assembly constituencies across 108 districts of the country, seeking to encourage and facilitate public actions and demands for greater transparency, accountability and responsiveness of public and elected institutions.
The Parliament Watch Project (PWP) is a part of the series of projects being implemented by FAFEN as part of the Democratic Governance Programme. Launched in 2008, the PWP aims at generating objective and statistically-sound information about parliamentary performance to foster informed engagement between the constituents and their elected representatives. Universal access to information about national legislative processes is an essential component of democracy. A society cannot be truly democratic until constituents know about the person they are voting for and his performance. Since there is a dearth of publicly accessible information about the political decision-making processes, such as parliamentary deliberations, the PWP is an effort to bridge this gap. This report will be a contribution towards creating a more informed citizenry and an increasingly responsible Parliament.
FAFEN observations of the National Assembly proceedings are recorded on a standardized form based on objective rules of parliamentary procedure. This information is included in the PWP database maintained at the FAFEN Secretariat. The analysis is compiled in the form of daily fact-sheets and session-wise reports, which are disseminated to the general public, media, civil society organizations, parliamentarians, political parties and other relevant organizations and institutions. The PWP also produces thematic reports such as participation of women Members, role of minority Members in the Parliament etc. The PWP plans to observe the proceedings of the Senate and provincial assemblies in near future.
This report is an analysis of the performance of the 13th National Assembly of Pakistan during its second parliamentary year (March 2009 to March 2010) – the last session, however, continued till April 2, 2010.
During this period, nine regular sessions of the National Assembly and three joint sessions of the two houses of the Parliament were held. However, the report covers only the regular sessions of the National Assembly, also called the Lower House.
FAFEN has so far been unable to secure formal authorization from the relevant authorities to observe the parliamentary proceedings and its observers have been denied official accreditation. The National Assembly Secretariat has yet to demonstrate that it ascribes importance to independent observation and appraisal of parliamentary proceedings. FAFEN observers were instead forced to seek ad hoc accreditation.
Copies of the agenda (Orders of the Day) were always available to the legislators, FAFEN observers and media persons. The agenda items on the Orders of the Day were not taken up completely in most of the sessions during the year. An ambitious number of items had been placed on the Orders of the Day (agenda) but many of them remained unaddressed by the end of each sitting. The agenda for Private Members’ Days (every Tuesday is a Private Members’ Day when the National Assembly is in session) was almost always too heavy to deal within one sitting. Resolutions and bills submitted by individuals or groups of Members remained major items on the agenda for the Private Members’ Days.
Information about the parliamentary calendar, draft legislation under consideration, Members’ attendance, maintenance of quorum and other important matters remained partially or entirely unavailable to the FAFEN observers and the general public.
As many as 657 documents were placed before the House by the government in response to the questions asked by various Members during the Question Hour (The first hour of every sitting (except Tuesdays) after the recitation from the Holy Quran, and taking oath by Members, if any, is fixed for answering of questions).
The National Assembly remained in session for a total of 242 hours and 43 minutes during 79 daily sittings in the second parliamentary year. None of the sittings, however, started at the stipulated time. Each sitting started an average of 48minutes late.
The Speaker was not present in 32 out of the 79 sittings whereas the Deputy Speaker was not present in the House in 18 sittings. The Prime Minister maintained his tradition of attending most of the sittings. The Prime Minister attended 71 sittings (90%) whereas the Leader of Opposition was present in 41 sittings (48%).
As many as 200 Members submitted their leave applications to the National Assembly Secretariat expressing their inability to attend various sittings. On average, the speaker read out applications of 13 Members in each sitting seeking approval of the Members present for the grant of leave. However, many Members who were technically “present” in the sittings actually left the chamber before conclusion of the proceedings. As the National Assembly Secretariat does not share information about the Members’ attendance and actual time spent by them in the House, it is very hard to ascertain how many Members completely or partially attended a particular sitting.
The quorum remained visibly lacking during majority of the sittings. Lack of quorum was especially observed at the beginning and end of each sitting. Quite surprisingly, the lack of quorum was pointed out only thrice during the entire year. It seemed that the treasury and opposition had reached some kind of an understanding under which quorum was not pointed out. The quorum remained lacking mostly during the morning sittings (National Assembly normally holds morning sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays).
On average, almost one-fourth of the Members (23 per cent) did not take part in the proceedings of the National Assembly. The participation was observed at its peak in the 20th session, when 60 per cent of the Members either brought agenda on the Orders of the Day or took part in the discussions.
The participation of the women Members in discussions was higher than their male counterparts. The women Members belonging to the PML-N, the PPPP, the PML and those elected on reserved seats were particularly more active in bringing agenda items and participating in debates. Active participation of the women Members is evident from the number of Private Members’ Bills, Questions, Resolutions, Motions and Calling Attention Notices submitted by them.
Some minority Members also actively took part in the parliamentary discussions. They, however, raised most of the issues through Points of Order, Calling Attention Notices and Resolutions.
Most of the agenda or parliamentary discussion was dominated by the Members of the PML-N and the PPPP, probably due to their large representation in the National Assembly. The single-Member parties — the NPP and the BNP-A — seemed less-interested in raising their issues. The PPP-S, another single-Member party, however, participated actively in the proceedings.
The PML Members generally followed the rules and procedures and their interventions remained focused on the government’s performance. The MQM Members also actively took part in the discussions and mostly raised issues that were related to Sindh.
Likewise, the ANP mostly raised issues related to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PML-F Members appeared less active during the sessions, but their participation was marked with tabulations on Orders of the Day.