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Parliament Watch: Big question for PTI: to be or not to be active in parliament

Parliament Watch: Big question for PTI: to be or not to be active in parliament

Imran Khan has appeared in the National Assembly so rarely that it looked a ‘Happy New Year’ wish coming true to democracy lovers when he entered the august hall on January 1, 2016 unusually very early - even before the mandatory recitation of Holy Quran and Naat. Media persons in the Press Gallery were left wondering if ‘change-through-parliament’ was part the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf chief’s New Year resolutions!

Mercifully, their wonderment did not result in ‘Breaking News’ as it soon emerged that Mr Khan was there to attend the oath-taking ceremony of Jahangir Tareen, the party’s general secretary and chief financier. NA-154 Lodhran, the constituency that returned him, was one of the four constituencies whose results in 2013 the PTI had challenged, and relentlessly fought in courts and in the streets to the annoyance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the ruling PML-N.

Indeed, Mr Tareen’s win against the ruling PML-N, that too in its stronghold of Punjab, counted for a great achievement for the PTI to celebrate. It was a crucial fight made tough by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif joining the campaign of his party’s candidate and announcing a Rs2.5 billion development package for the people of Lodhran. But the victory would count less in the public eye for any elected representative of the people who gives the impression of being non-serious in using the floor of the parliament to impress his credentials and the causes of his constituents.

Alas, Mr Tareen has not been seen in the National Assembly since he pledged in his inaugural speech to forcefully fight for the rights of his people. That has also been the main criticism against the PTI chairman.

Initially, Mr Khan used to explain that he didn’t believe the present National Assembly was “lawfully elected”. After a Supreme Court judges-led investigation commission rejected PTI’s claims that the 2013 general elections were rigged in favour of the ruling PML-N, however, political analysts across the board expected Mr Khan to play an active role in the National Assembly as leader of the opposition. After all, his party had bagged second largest number of votes after PML-N in the 2013 elections.

But to the dismay of many, the PTI leadership has continued to ignore the parliament.

Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, head of the non-profit Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, says attending long sittings of the National Assembly isn’t “Imran Khan’s cup of tea.”

According to him, the PTI chief will stick to his old record of restricting himself to “special appearances on selective occasions.”

Senior PTI officials, however, dismiss that perception when Dawn tried to learn whether an attitudinal problem or something else was keeping their leader away from the place he had been struggling to be for decades.

“I don’t think Khan doesn’t attend National Assembly because he doesn’t like the place,” said one of the party officials. “It’s because the PTI’s stand is that the present house is the result of faulty elections and that makes the place uncomfortable to him.”

It is evident that the PTI takes comfort in the fact that after the judicial investigation commission’s had rejected its contention that the 2013 general elections were rigged, election tribunals accepted PTI’s petitions relating to NA-122, NA-125, and NA-54.

Consequently, the current National Assembly will remain tainted for the party, said the official.

Still, the harder fact remains that the sweeping electoral reforms the PTI seeks before next general elections, can only be pursued in the parliament.

“Since the PTI is very much part of both houses of the parliament, Mr Khan must play his role in the effort by regularly attending the National Assembly,” said a sitting lawmaker of PTI. “It will add to his credentials as someone who believes in democracy and rule of law.”

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2016

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