MPs fac­ing tick­lish is­sues, in­clud­ing whether to have a deputy pre­mier


SOMEof the most tick­lish is­sues, sur fac­ing dur­ing the last few weeks, have placed oner­ous re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, es­pe­cially of the fed­eral level. How they fare in their tests, will prove their po­lit­i­cal acu­men.

All eyes are now fo­cused on three ma­jor prob­lems: 1) prime min­is­ter’s ab­sence from the house, and his in­abil­ity to serve the cov­eted of­fice he has been hold­ing since June 2013, 2) their own perks and priv­i­leges, and 3) the Panama leaks is­sue which has al­ready as­sumed hor­ren­dous pro­por­tion.

An in­ter­est­ing de­bate has been on since the last three days as to whether a prime min­is­ter, in­ca­pac­i­tated by sever health prob­lems, can be al­lowed to con­tinue in of­fice, or a work­able op­tion be found to solve a cri­sis-like sit­u­a­tion. Pow­er­ful view­points have come to the fore, for or against the topic.

For­mer chief jus­tice, Iftikhar Chaud­hury has de­manded in-house change to fill the post for the time Nawaz Sharif re­cov­ers fully from the del­i­cate heart surgery in Lon­don, and is able to re­gain enough strength and vigour to dis­charge the oner­ous re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, tagged with his high of­fice.

Con­sti­tu­tional ex­pert Sen­a­tor Bar­ris­ter Aitzaz Ah­san and the PTI leader Shah Mah­mood Qureshi ar­gue that the Con­sti­tu­tion was silent on the sub­ject of having an al­ter­nate prime min­is­ter dur­ing the time Nawaz Sharif is un­able to at­tend to work prop­erly. Op­po­si­tion leader in the Na­tional As­sem­bly Syed Khur­sheed Shah sides with PTI leader’s as­ser­tion that prime min­is­ter’s phys­i­cal pres­ence is es­sen­tial for pre­sid­ing over the na­tional eco­nomic coun­cil meet­ing. The Tehrik-i-In­saaf chief Im­ran Khan, and the PPP chair­man Bi­lawal Bhutto, have con­fined them­selves to mere ex­ten­sion of good wishes for health and re­cov­ery of the prime min­is­ter from his open heart surgery, sched­uled for Tues­day May 31.

Sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments have been ex­pressed by Nawaz Shar­rif’s prin­ci­pal foes, the Chaudhris of Gu­jrat—Shu­jaat and Pervez Ilahi.. Fel­low feel­ings or hu­man­i­tar­ian con­sid­er­a­tions apart, the ques­tions need­ing an­swer is as to for how long, the prime min­is­ter will take to re­sume nor­mal work­ing for a cru­cial of­fice of coun­try’s chief ex­ec­u­tive.

The Con­sti­tu­tion clearly au­tho­rizes the Sen­ate chair­man to take over act­ing pres­i­dent in case the Pres­i­dent is out of the coun­try, or is un­able to dis­charge his du­ties. Sim­i­lar pro­vi­sion has been made avail­able for Gov­er­nor’s ab­sence from the coun­try.

The ques­tion now arises is whether the Con­sti­tu­tion should be amended to pro­vide for the post of a deputy pre­mier to take charge of of­fice in case the prime min­is­ter is un­able to take care of State mat­ters. It is a new sit­u­a­tion the coun­try is con­fronted with, and a long time so­lu­tion, should now be an au­to­matic choice.

This ques­tion as­sumes im­por­tance be­cause of the con­tra­dic­tory state­ments made by son Hasan Nawaz that his fa­ther will re­turn to Pak­istan af­ter two weeks on doc­tor’s ad­vice.

But em­i­nent car­di­ol­o­gists point out that a pa­tient of open heart or even bye-pass surgery will need atleast 6 weeks to re­cover fully from the sen­si­tive oper­a­tion.

For four weeks, he will have to be un­der post-op­er­a­tive care, and even af­ter re­turn­ing home from hospi­tal af­ter a week or ten days, he will need sup­port of pil­lows or some­thing soft for com­fort dur­ing cough­ing, which is nor­mal, and over­come the ir­ri­ta­tion caused by open­ing of chest re­pair the dam­age done to ar­ter­ies car­ry­ing blood to the heart. A com­plete and fuller re­cov­ery will take in min­i­mum 6 to 7 weeks. But even that also raises a ques­tion whether the per­son, op­er­ated upo can, bear the heavy work­loads, or even the likely fa­tigue af­ter initial re­cov­ery.

State­ments from the prime min­is­ter house that Nawaz Sharif has been in touch with min­is­ter in­charge for his of­fice, Ishaq Dar, di­rectly or through his mil­i­tary or cabi­net sec­re­taries, is hardly ten­able. The pre­mier must be in touch, but af­ter surgery, for five to six weeks he will hardly be able to speak prop­erly. He can­not ex­ert him­self, for it can lead to post-op­er­a­tive com­pli­ca­tions.

In­stance has been cited about In­dian prime min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh heart surgery, dur­ing which no al­ter­nate prime min­is­ter was even thought about. True, but con­di­tions dif­fer from per­son to per­son. A proper med­i­cal and le­gal ad­vise must be sought in the mat­ter now.

The ques­tion of raise in salaries, perks and priv­i­leges of Na­tional As­sem­bly and Sen­ate mem­bers of upto 350 to 400 per­cent, before the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans now, must be de­cided keeping in view the eco­nomic con­di­tions or the likely budget con­straints be­cause of short­fall in ex­ports, en­ergy cri­sis, and un­fore­seen billing on the pur­chase of gas from out­side, or in­stal­la­tion of new power plants.

The move in the lower house, and the clam­our for it from MNAs has been shock­ing. The PTI and MQM have op­posed such uni­lat­eral and un­timely de­ci­sions. Then the ques­tion of power, hunger, squalor needs to be ad­dressed first before par­lia­men­tar­i­ans can look for pro­tect­ing their own self­ish mo­tives.

The sil­ver lin­ing in the en­tire is­sue is that the Sen­ate chair­man Raza Rab­bani had turned down the pro­posal, and when forced through res­o­lu­tions, left the seat protest­ing against the self­ish at­ti­tude of the Sen­a­tors, Even in the lower house, the de­mand for rise in salaries, perks and priv­i­leges has been made through a res­o­lu­tion, in­stead of a proper leg­isla­tive bill.

But even a res­o­lu­tion from the lower house can bring pres­sure on the fi­nance min­is­ter, who is al­ready un­der enor­mous pres­sure to place pro­pos­als that can meet the na­tion’s as­pi­ra­tions.

The budget is to be pre­sented on 3rd June, when the prime min­is­ter will be re­cov­er­ing from del­i­cate oper­a­tion. Whether a video con­fer­enc­ing will be help­ful op­tion for him to ex­press on sen­si­tive is­sue of tax­a­tion, which has to be ap­proved minutes before the fi­nance min­is­ter walks into the house with his port­fo­lio. This is a ma­jor poser, and needs sat­is­fac­tory an­swer.

In all fair­ness the gov­ern­ment can, if it is so keen to heed to par­lia­men­tar­i­ans’ de­sire, raise their salaries by 5 to 10 per­cent, and al­low con­cur­rent raise in their con­veyance.

Ask­ing for money for re­search by par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, and for meet­ing ex­penses for their sep­a­rate of­fice, should be dis­missed sum­mar­ily. The two houses of the par­lia­ment does have a pow­er­ful li­brary, stashed with re­search ma­te­rial, and can be used by those look­ing for so­lu­tion to is­sue raised in their minds.

Lastly, the is­sue of Panama leaks. The less said the bet­ter about it. Op­po­si­tion and the rul­ing par­ties are en­gaged in sort­ing out the terms of ref­er­ence for the en­quiry com­mis­sion on ac­cu­mu­la­tion of il­licit wealth un­der the Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice. Through ad­just­ments, the dead­lock, cur­rently on, can be re­solved. The gov­ern­ment has a greater re­spon­si­bil­ity to show flex­i­bil­ity. Khur­sheed Shah’s re­marks on the topic, is apt and proper.

How­ever, to ex­pect that the op­po­si­tion will bend on its de­mand for en­quiry against the prime min­is­ter’s fam­ily or men­tion of Nawaz sharif’s name di­rectly or in­di­rectly, will be un­jus­ti­fied. The op­po­si­tion par­ties have to force the gov­ern­ment to ac­cept re­al­i­ties on the ground. A so­lu­tion then alone can be pos­si­ble.

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