As the Parliament completes its first year after the May 2013 general elections, there is not much that can be said in praise of its performance. The Parliament, comprising of the National Assembly and the Senate, is the most significant institution in any democratic system. It is a unique platform which enables meaningful engagement between public representatives. Issues, both political and apolitical are debated, existing and proposed policies are scrutinised, and new laws are passed. But of course, in Pakistan, there is always a great discrepancy between how it ought to be and how it is.

The PML-N government has done everything to make the Parliament dangerously irrelevant. Its lack of regard for the institution is evident from the absence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose attendance rate would put the most irregular of students to shame. What is it really that keeps the PM away? Does he believe that he is not answerable to the institution? Or is it because he is afraid to take a clear stance on ‘sensitive issues’? Nothing can justify his absence from the House he is supposed to lead and is answerable to. Most, if not all, decisions have been made outside the Parliament, without necessary consultation or debate. This also highlights the ruling party’s aristocratic approach towards governance. When key decisions are made in private meetings held at private residences, it undermines the role of the Parliament and the entire democratic process. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise that the PML-N has been unable to pass a single law during its first year. Perhaps this is the government’s biggest failure; its inability to perform the most fundamental of its functions.

Moreover, the current political situation requires meaningful and consistent engagement. Instead, the government has further isolated other political parties present in the Parliament, by depriving them of the opportunity to play their constitutional roles. Whether the PTI would have halted its demonstrations had the Parliament been more active or not, we don’t know. In any case, the PML-N never attempted to create an atmosphere favourable to political discourse. Its high-handedness has added fuel to the fire, as Parliamentarians are now tempted to look outwards for redress. That is never a good omen for weak democracies. It is hoped that the ruling party realises the value of the institution it derives its legitimacy and power from, and uses the excellent platform available to it for engagement with rivals and legislation.