Prime Minister Imran Khan made a disconcerting remark in his televised interview on Monday. The Prime Minister stated that although the PTI and its allies lacked majority in the Senate to pass legislation smoothly, they would not go for any settlement with the opposition parties for support and would make legislation through ordinances instead.

The comment has rightfully received criticism from opposition parties, which have vociferously challenged the notion of using presidential ordinances for legislation in normal circumstances. Both PML-N and PPP leaders have censured the remark, with former Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani saying that presidential ordinances undermine the authority of the parliament and making such an institution dysfunctional will have disastrous effect on the institutional structure of the state.

There are many dimensions to why the PM’s flippant remark was problematic. Firstly, from a practical point of view, presidential ordinances will not be effective in passing any meaningful legislation. Under Article 89 (1) of the Constitution, the President may promulgate an ordinance if the circumstances require it, yet this ordinance will be temporary and will stand repealed after 120 days. Thus, to enact the kind of important long-lasting legislative reforms that Khan talks about, in the areas of women rights and inheritance laws, a presidential ordinance, with a lifeline of barely four months, will be practically useless- and goes against PTI’s vision of long-term institutional change.

Moreover, if PTI is serious about promulgating ordinances as a means to get around its lack of majority in the Senate, it may have not thought through the solution it is proposing. An ordinance can be rendered meaningless if a resolution disapproving it is passed by the House-the PML-N and PPP have the collective numbers in the Senate to pass disapproving resolutions. Here too, the PTI is stuck- proving that our parliamentary system is strong and does not allow for shortcuts to legislation.

Lastly, the idea of presidential ordinances carries baggage. It has been the tool of dictators in the past and goes against the spirit of the constitution and the parliament. PTI cannot change the rules of democracy- no matter how much it resents the other political players; it has to work with them if it wants to create meaningful progress in the country. The party has shown its negotiation skills abroad with the bailout packages with Saudi Arabia and China- it needs to step up its diplomacy skills at home too.