Many self-styled pundits draw venal pleasure in criticizing the outgoing Senate Chairman, Raza Rabbani. Their self-inflicted grouse?
Well, if he was such a principled, incorruptible and enlightened democrat, how come he allowed himself to be led, all these ten years since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, by an allegedly‘ corrupt to the core Asif Ali Zardari, known the world over as Mr. Ten Percent’?
These very pundits had almost pilloried the Senator in their TV talks-shows and newspaper columns as well as in their social media outbursts when with genuinely choked voice in pain and eyes brimming with tears he put his signature on the law that allowed the rebirth of the infamous military courts (clearly under duress from the PPP co-chairperson), ostensibly for trying specifically those involved in deadly terrorist activities because the civilian judges were too scared to sit in the judgment of these murderers lest they become victims of murderous backlash from these assassins.
It was not a misplaced fear but one dictated by actual incidents in which some judges after having handed down death sentences to terrorists had been killed or had to fleethe country to escape the wrath of these merchants of death.
These pundits, paradoxically enough, out of sheer cussedness perhaps had vociferously drawn even more warped pleasure when Rabbani’s democratic credentials and his loyalty to the PPP were publicly vilified by Asif Ali Zardari while refusing to put him up as a joint candidate of the PPP and the PMLN for re-electing him as the Chairman Senate on March 12, 2018.
To the utter dismay of most non-partisan political quarters Zardari had also accused Rabbani of not resisting the “anti-democratic” moves by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif without pointing out what these “anti-democratic” moves were; and he had also alleged that Rabbani did not ‘resolve’ PPP’s reservations regarding the 18th Amendment without informing a bewildered nation what were these ‘reservations.’
One had thought that Rabbani would not have been able to get the 18th amendment passed unanimously by the previous parliament (2008-2013) almost restoring the 1973 Constitution in its original form after about almost 30 years except for a couple of Zia related obscure clauses labeled as Islamic without the full support from Party’s his co-chairman who at that time was also holding the office of the President— country’s highest elected office—as well as was the unchallenged head of the ruling Party. But in the light of Zardari’s latest but illogical outburst against Raza it appears that the latter had succeeded in getting the 18th amendment passed unanimously without any help from the former.
Achieving political successes using street-smart tactics does not make one a consummate politician, well-versed in the actual science and art of politics. That is perhaps why Zardari seems to have misunderstood Rabbani’s democratic approach to his Senate office. In political systems that are regarded as parliamentary democracies traditionally elected presidents, speakers of the elected assemblies and chairmen of the upper houses give up their respective political affiliations and become politically non-partisan so as to be able to handle their respective responsibilities politically even-handedly and as representatives of the entire nation or in the case of elected houses that of the whole of the respective houses.
That is exactly how Raza Rabbani had tried to function as the Chairman of the Senate during the last three years. And similar political compulsions had perhaps influenced his conduct while he was heading the parliamentary committee responsible for drafting the 18thConstitutional Amendment Bill.
One also recalls that Rabbani in his farewell speech, said that in Pakistan there was a clash between state institutions, which had compelled him not to announce his ruling regarding a debate on trichotomy of power.
“I’d reserved my ruling after a thorough debate on trichotomy of power…[and] the reason why I didn’t announce my ruling is because there is a dire need of “intra-institutional dialogue” to bury the insinuations of ‘clash between different state institutions,’ he added.
Therefore, one would like to see the PPP Co-Chairperson, in the interest of democracy, in the interest of the parliamentary system of governance taking roots in our country and above all in the interest of political efforts at confining every organ of the state within its constitutional domain, would revisit his seemingly too off-the-cuff assessment of the sterlingperformance of Raza as the Chairman of the Senate.
Or maybe, the Chairperson of the Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Oxford educated son of Benazir Bhutto who must have reflexively absorbed as he was growing up in the lap of his famous mother all that was politically best in her, would intervene and convince his father that Raza, a blue blooded PPP man deserves to be re-elected.
One needs almost a book to recount the reforms witnessed in governance and performance of the Senate which has undergone huge transformation through many initiatives since 12th March 2015 under the leadership of its Chairman, Raza Rabbani who conceived and initiated project “Restoration of the Majesty and Transparency in the Parliament”.
The initiatives launched during his tenure covered a wide range of areas including the House Committees and Parliamentary Outreach. Most importantly, the centralized role of the Chairman in the decision making was devolved to the House Business Advisory Committee (HBAC) comprising the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Leader of the House, and Leader of the Opposition, Chief Whips and Parliamentary Leaders of all political parties and Independent Groups by giving it power and mandate to decide on issues pertaining to not only the Business to be transacted during a Session but all the major initiatives, plans and strategies related to the overall working and functioning of the Senate.
Transparency and openness have remained a hallmark during this period; public has been given access to the decisions of the HBAC by providing the minutes at the Senate Website; access has been given to the Chairman, Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition and Members’ salaries, allowances and privileges under the concept of ‘self-accountability’; Members’ attendance is provided on the Website; establishment of Public Petition Table has given the public direct access to the House Committees and the Chairman.
Most importantly, the House has approved the Code of Conduct for Members and constitution of Committee on Ethics hence providing a transparent mechanism for self- accountability. The determination of ‘self-accountability’ has witnessed a landmark development of operationalization of Committee on Ethics to deal with the cases of violation of said Code, which is the first ever attempt of self-accountability in the Parliamentary history of Pakistan.
Under the umbrella of “ Parliamentary Outreach” initiatives have been taken for developing an interface with the public at large, civil society, youth, journalists and international parliamentary institutions.
Senate rules have been amended to provide for conversion of the House into Committee of the Whole on issues of national importance; Special Committee on the Devolution process has been made a Functional Committee of Senate in order to regularly oversee and ensure implantation of devolution scheme as stipulated in the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 vide 18th Constitutional Amendment; a committee on Delegated Legislation has been provided to scrutinize and report to the Senate of Pakistan that whether or not powers to make rules, regulations, by-laws, schemes or other statutory instruments conferred by theConstitution or delegated by the Parliament have been timely and properly exercised within such conferment or delegation. Senate committees continue to play a crucial role ensuring quality legislation addressing the issues of the public at large and effective oversight of the executive.
At least three of outgoing Chairman’s initiatives needs special mention here:
A Monument has been constructed in the lawns of the Parliament to pay tribute to those unnamed heroes who were tortured, murdered and imprisoned in the struggle to save and restore democracy; it is a small memorial with highly esteemed symbolism. Leadership of both the Houses have decided that all the foreign dignitaries coming to the Parliament House would first pay visit to the Monument and would lay wreath and pay homage to the unsung heroes.
The Gali-e-Dastoor has been created in the Parliament House to pay humble tribute to the Pakistanis who sacrificed their lives, limbs and property in their struggle for democratic rights. A corridor in the Parliament House has been transformed into the mural signifying the struggle. The faculty and students from the National College of Arts (NCA), Rawalpindi has painted the mural whereas CDA had physically executed the project.
The Senate Museum was inaugurated on 23rd January, 2018. The museum preserves and projects the soul and spirit of the Senate of Pakistan. It compiles and narrates the evolution, historical background and reorganization of Senate through combination of pictorial and physical displays of various artifacts, murals, dioramas, exhibits and historical documents.