MPs facing ticklish issues, including whether to have a deputy premier

Salahuddin Haider

SOME of the most ticklish issues, surfacing during the last few weeks, have placed onerous responsibilities on Parliamentarians, especially of the federal level. How they fare in their tests, will prove their political acumen.
All eyes are now focused on three major problems: 1) prime minister’s absence from the house, and his inability to serve the coveted office he has been holding since June 2013, 2) their own perks and privileges, and 3) the Panama leaks issue which has already assumed horrendous proportion.
An interesting debate has been on since the last three days as to whether a prime minister, incapacitated by sever health problems, can be allowed to continue in office, or a workable option be found to solve a crisis-like situation. Powerful viewpoints have come to the fore, for or against the topic.
Former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhury has demanded in-house change to fill the post for the time Nawaz Sharif recovers fully from the delicate heart surgery in London, and is able to regain enough strength and vigour to discharge the onerous responsibilities, tagged with his high office.
Constitutional expert Senator Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and the PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi argue that the Constitution was silent on the subject of having an alternate prime minister during the time Nawaz Sharif is unable to attend to work properly.
Opposition leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah sides with PTI leader’s assertion that prime minister’s physical presence is essential for presiding over the national economic council meeting. The Tehrik-i-Insaaf chief Imran Khan, and the PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto, have confined themselves to mere extension of good wishes for health and recovery of the prime minister from his open heart surgery, scheduled for Tuesday May 31.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by Nawaz Sharrif’s principal foes, the Chaudhris of Gujrat—Shujaat and Pervez Ilahi.. Fellow feelings or humanitarian considerations apart, the questions needing answer is as to for how long, the prime minister will take to resume normal working for a crucial office of country’s chief executive.
The Constitution clearly authorizes the Senate chairman to take over acting president in case the President is out of the country, or is unable to discharge his duties. Similar provision has been made available for Governor’s absence from the country.
The question now arises is whether the Constitution should be amended to provide for the post of a deputy premier to take charge of office in case the prime minister is unable to take care of State matters. It is a new situation the country is confronted with, and a long time solution, should now be an automatic choice.
This question assumes importance because of the contradictory statements made by son Hasan Nawaz that his father will return to Pakistan after two weeks on doctor’s advice.
But eminent cardiologists point out that a patient of open heart or even bye-pass surgery will need atleast 6 weeks to recover fully from the sensitive operation.
For four weeks, he will have to be under post-operative care, and even after returning home from hospital after a week or ten days, he will need support of pillows or something soft for comfort during coughing, which is normal, and overcome the irritation caused by opening of chest repair the damage done to arteries carrying blood to the heart.
A complete and fuller recovery will take in minimum 6 to 7 weeks. But even that also raises a question whether the person, operated upo can, bear the heavy workloads, or even the likely fatigue after initial recovery.
Statements from the prime minister house that Nawaz Sharif has been in touch with minister incharge for his office, Ishaq Dar, directly or through his military or cabinet secretaries, is hardly tenable. The premier must be in touch, but after surgery, for five to six weeks he will hardly be able to speak properly. He cannot exert himself, for it can lead to post-operative complications.
Instance has been cited about Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh heart surgery, during which no alternate prime minister was even thought about. True, but conditions differ from person to person. A proper medical and legal advise must be sought in the matter now.
The question of raise in salaries, perks and privileges of National Assembly and Senate members of upto 350 to 400 percent, before the parliamentarians now, must be decided keeping in view the economic conditions or the likely budget constraints because of shortfall in exports, energy crisis, and unforeseen billing on the purchase of gas from outside, or installation of new power plants.
The move in the lower house, and the clamour for it from MNAs has been shocking. The PTI and MQM have opposed such unilateral and untimely decisions. Then the question of power, hunger, squalor needs to be addressed first before parliamentarians can look for protecting their own selfish motives.
The silver lining in the entire issue is that the Senate chairman Raza Rabbani had turned down the proposal, and when forced through resolutions, left the seat protesting against the selfish attitude of the Senators, Even in the lower house, the demand for rise in salaries, perks and privileges has been made through a resolution, instead of a proper legislative bill.
But even a resolution from the lower house can bring pressure on the finance minister, who is already under enormous pressure to place proposals that can meet the nation’s aspirations.
The budget is to be presented on 3rd June, when the prime minister will be recovering from delicate operation. Whether a video conferencing will be helpful option for him to express on sensitive issue of taxation, which has to be approved minutes before the finance minister walks into the house with his portfolio. This is a major poser, and needs satisfactory answer.
In all fairness the government can, if it is so keen to heed to parliamentarians’ desire, raise their salaries by 5 to 10 percent, and allow concurrent raise in their conveyance.
Asking for money for research by parliamentarians, and for meeting expenses for their separate office, should be dismissed summarily. The two houses of the parliament does have a powerful library, stashed with research material, and can be used by those looking for solution to issue raised in their minds.
Lastly, the issue of Panama leaks. The less said the better about it. Opposition and the ruling parties are engaged in sorting out the terms of reference for the enquiry commission on accumulation of illicit wealth under the Supreme Court Chief Justice. Through adjustments, the deadlock, currently on, can be resolved. The government has a greater responsibility to show flexibility. Khursheed Shah’s remarks on the topic, is apt and proper.
However, to expect that the opposition will bend on its demand for enquiry against the prime minister’s family or mention of Nawaz sharif’s name directly or indirectly, will be unjustified. The opposition parties have to force the government to accept realities on the ground. A solution then alone can be possible.

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