On Friday, the Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani ground the upper house of the parliament to a halt, adjourned the session, and offered his resignation. The reason; government’s repeated disdain for the house and the cabinet’s habitual refusal to answer questions by the senators properly. Mr Raza Rabanni was not alone in this outrage - senators from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as well as those from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), Muttahida Qoumi Movement (MQM) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) also expressed great displeasure at being reduced to a “mere debating club”. This is problem that cuts across party lines and goes to the heart of the constitution and how the government is supposed to function.

The final straw was a question regarding the pension and perks of retired government officials, which the establishment benches waved off by saying it had been sent to the finance ministry and a reply was being awaited – the same answer as last session. However, such naked delays and partial answers have become the modus operandi of the present government. The upper house has the crucial responsibility to be a check in the bicameral system, not just on legislation but also on daily activities of the government and its ministers. ‘Question time’ – where ministers have to answer in detail the queries of representatives - is a hallmark of democracies worldwide, and the keystone of daily government accountability, however the present government seems to adamant impudently refusing to be held accountable.

The shutdown of the Senate is an important message that should resonate with the government, especially since its own party senators are part of it. The chairman is not wrong in pointing out that the Senate carries more than its share of the parliamentary workload – it legislates while the National Assembly holds verbal mudslinging matches. This culture of ministerial disdain must end; they need to be on the beck and call of the Senate as they are accountable to them and ultimately the people.