Declaring parliament “sovereign”, we ultimately mean that parliamentarians are “supreme” and “self-determining”, who enjoy absolute powers and liberty when they perform as public representatives. Morality and law regulate their conduct and business in parliament. Prime objective of parliament is to serve the people.
In failed or deficient democracies, parliament is not sovereign primarily due to the reason that its constituents lack supremacy and freedom in decisions making process. For, they lose interests in parliamentary proceedings and practices. On one hand, disregarded representatives develop a proclivity to consume time and resources purely on day to day basis. On the other hand, they explore avenues for self-pursuits. Paradoxically, rhetoric proves parliament sovereign but lifeless transaction transforms it into a dormant and decadent entity. Interestingly, the sanctity of parliament is reemphasized on the altar of parliament. In fact, the word:” sovereign” is not attributed to building, exterior and interior decorative accessories, modern electronic IT system and luxurious chairs but it is reserved for the inhabitants, enjoying the authority and power to “oversee” the performance of the government including their leadership, irrespective of political affiliations. Principally, parliamentarians are answerable to the conscious and universal ethics; then to the people and lastly to their party as a whole. Whenever, a clash between their prime duty and specific interests arises, they are bound to prefer the first, not the second; otherwise, they shall remain no more supreme or self-determining public representatives. In the same way, the head of the government, or party head cannot claim respect and regard, if he disrespects and disregards the parliament that assigns him an opportunity to hold public office.
After general elections, the prospectus of the future government and its head looks imminsent. Even then, no party head is entitled to become the prime minister until he is elected in the parliament. Likewise, he cannot head the government, if he loses the confidence of the House. In the parliamentary form of democracy, the philosophy behind the mandatory election of prime minister by the parliament is that the parliamentarians are more powerful than the former. If a democratically elected prime minister disrespects the parliamentarians but pays verbal regards to the parliament, then the claim of sovereign parliament is self-defeating. Since the UK Parliament attained more power than the UK King, the British primer ministers lost their slots when they tried to behave like the king. Public support can only serve to mobilize the voters, but real victory lies in the hands of parliament. In democracy, charged public crowds or political charisma of any leader is a very dangerous and lethal phenomenon, resulting in misconception of democratic world. Mussolini of Italy and Alfred Hitler of Germany are the explicit examples who suffered irreparable loss owing to self–inflicted misfortune. Democracy is a game of unpredictability, if manipulated through gimmicks. At one moment Mussolini and Hitler controlled the oceanic crowd of their supporters and at the other times, both the popular leaders met with tragic end of their lives. Mussolini was hanged and Hitler committed suicide. Cardinal reason behind their tragic ends was that both the popular leaders dropped the pretense of democracy, developing dictatorship within their persons. They dishonored their own elected representatives and killed or punished those military men who were once their supporters.
The only virtue of parliamentary democracy, which is interpreted as weakness of parliamentary form of government by the advocates of presidential form of democracy, is that prime minister has to transact the commerce of government through constant consultation and guidance from the parliament, as it derives precedence over the executive branch. The constitution of a republic defines a relationship between sovereign parliament and the government—the former performs as overseers while the latter as answerable. If any of the both changes the basic role, they suffer together. The parliament remains no more sovereign and the people’s government loses the moral as well as democratic authority. In order to maintain the sovereignty of parliament, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) redefined a role of parliament, assigning new tasks to a national parliament in democratic world of 21st century. Today’s parliament is not restricted only to legislation, but is free to accomplish multi-prong business. Firstly, parliament is the protector of liberties and interests of the people. Secondly, IPU requires that all nation states and societies must develop domestic capacity to promote their own democratic values, norms and ethics to such an extent that the people should love and admire their parliament. The Governing Council of IPU approved Strategy for 2017-2021 in Geneva which defines equality, inclusiveness, respect, integrity, rule of law and solidarity as the safeguards of democracy.
If people do not pay regard to parliament, they are not blamed for it. Rather parliament should improve its character, promoting moral values. Generally, national parliament experiences disregard of the citizens owing to its inherent weaknesses. The strong parliament must have strong character and inbuilt capacity to show the worth. One basic criterion that creates division of power is that parliament is not subservient to the executive branch of a state. Ruins come when three different organs of state: legislature, judiciary and government make alliance against the people. Verily, parliament is paid respect because it defends the people and law in front of personal pursuits, likings and disliking. Parliament is a place wherein every voice counts, IPU tells. Hence, an important role of today’s parliament is not to make or unmake law but good governance and rule of law. It focuses only on the audit of performance of government, overseeing ultimate benefits of democracy to the people across the board. If the fundamental role of parliament is snatched or parliament itself surrenders its sovereignty and freedom to the whims of the government or to their self-interests, neither the parliament nor the parliamentarians may enjoy sovereignty, freedom and liberty. Both become redundant and outlived. The titles “sovereign” for the parliament or “self-determining” for the parliamentarian do not look appropriate and genuine.
The writer is EX-Director General (Translation), Senate of Pakistan).