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Impartiality and Independence of the Chair Imperative for the Democracy: Says National Assembly Speaker

Islamabad: National Assembly Speaker, Dr. Fehmida Mirza has said that Speakers and the Presiding officers of the Parliament were exposed to the numerous challenges in multiparty chambers and minority/coalition Governments throughout the commonwealth which needed to be addressed in order to ensure neutrality of the Speakers and Presiding Officers.

She called for a joint way forward for the Commonwealth democracies for projecting and ensuring the impartiality, authority and independence of the Chair. She said this in her keynote address to the 21st Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of Commonwealth (CSPOC) being held in Port of Spain according to message received from Trinidad and Tobago.

She said that the customary “two-party system”, which remained the hallmark of the Westminster model for centuries was now increasingly giving way to not only hung parliaments but also multi-party coalitions and even minority governments.

She said that while the Executive finds it a walk on a tight rope, it’s also not a smooth sailing for the Presiding Officers of such variedly divided Chambers. She said that in fact, in some cases, it was even hard to keep the established lines of the “treasury” and the “opposition” intact. Sharing her experiences, the Speaker said that she handled “voices of dissent, emerging from the government benches” as well as “opposition to the opposition from within the opposition benches”.

Dr. Fehmida Mirza said that the present circumstances have naturally posed new questions to the authority, integrity, scope and dynamics of the institution of the Speaker. She said that even the established parliamentary democracies have so far not been fully able to keep the Chair completely out of the party politics. She said that like any other candidate, the Speaker too has to get a party ticket and remain loyal to its basic membership which naturally affects his/her impartiality.

She said that there was no denial to the fact that the Chair has numerous powers which are drawn from the House and if he conducts himself with utmost impartiality and with all fairness, the strength and power of the House would be on his side.

She said that his independence must reflect through his rulings, given on day-to-day constitutional, legal and procedural issues, raised during the proceedings of the House. She said that this independence is also essential in protecting the rights of the minorities and special interest groups, present in the House.

Dr. Fehmida Mirza said that independence of the Speakers cannot be achieved if they were not supported by the Opposition, the Treasury and their respective allies who must cooperate with the Chair by complying with the Rules of Business and precedents, set for maintaining decorum and orderly atmosphere.

She said that the requisite goal can be achieved through the forum of Business Advisory Committee, a viable means for ensuring the smooth functioning of the system. She said that this platform has proved effective in Pakistan where agreement on annual calendar of sessions, consensus on the debate on issues of urgent public importance through motions, tabling of bills and time allocation for all such matters have been achieved.

She said that the last general elections of 2008 in Pakistan paved way for the return of parliamentary democracy after its remaining under the shadows of a military dictatorship for almost nine years. She said that the diverse mandate in present Parliament, was united in one aspect whereby the House had an overwhelming majority of anti-status quo voices, calling for a meaningful change and a woman elected with an over two-third majority to be its Speaker for the first time in the history of the entire Muslim World.

She was confident that the present discourse upon the emerging challenges would provide a way forward for the Speakers and Presiding Officers to address the challenges confronting them to maintain their neutrality while chairing the House.

She said that we all should forge a joint strategy and way forward for our Westminster democracies of the Commonwealth, whereby the impartiality, authority and independence of the Chair is fully protected.

For more information, contact:
Karamat Hussain Niazi
National Assembly of Pakistan
Parliament House, Islamabad
Tel: +9251 922 1082 -83
Fax: +9251 922 1106

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