Tuesday, June 28
Whither ‘political’ Chief Whip of Punjab Assembly?
The Punjab government is yet to appoint Chief Whip for the highest legislative house of the province, and now things have turned out to be so annoying for the political dispensation that it has also given an additional responsibility to a bureaucrat.
The Chief Whip is a political office in leading legislatures of the world, and is assigned to an elected member whose task is to administer the whipping system that ensures members of the party attend and vote as the party leadership desires. In British politics – which is being followed by Pakistan as well – the Chief Whip of the ruling party in the House of Commons is usually appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury so that the incumbent, who represents the whips in general, has a seat and a voice in the Cabinet.
Interestingly, the government is yet to appoint Chief Whip and his deputies despite its fourth year in power. Traditionally, the Chief Whip – supported by Deputy CW and Assistant CW – has the role in party politics whose primary purpose is to ensure control of the formal decision-making process in a parliamentary legislature. They are the party 'enforcers', who typically offer both inducements and punishments to party members. In modern times, most Whips are concerned primarily with ensuring a desired attendance for an important vote.
Because legislatures typically only require a majority of the quorum in attendance, a majority party can be outvoted if a large number of its legislators are absent and the Opposition is in full attendance. An important part of a government Whip's job is to ensure that this situation never arises, but it all happened. Even quick moves by the PML-N leading lights around the gallery and corridors in search of their members did not help the Treasury’s cause.
It has repeatedly seen that the PML-N Treasury at the Punjab Assembly had continuously failed in keeping the quorum intact when the government business was taken up.
Consequently, this has raised the question also: Whither Chief Whip of the Assembly? Over the period, it has been observed that Senior Advisor to CM Sirdar Zulfiqar Ali Khan Khosa is unofficially working as the Whip, but even he could not keep the House quorate. Under these circumstances, the Opposition, mainly the PML-Q, virtually acted as de facto Chief Whip since its members kept the Treasury on its toes by pointing out the quorum frequently.
Last year, seeing the inability of the Treasury to keep the quorum intact, Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan virtually started acting as Chief Whip when the government benches were trying to get through the Ali Institute of Education Lahore Bill from the House. This had happened despite the fact Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif was present in the Assembly premises. Later, Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah Khan maintained that it was incidental that the quorum could not be kept intact. Moreover, the official spokes person said the MPAs were discussing the development projects with Shahbaz Sharif; hence they were stuck up in the CM’s chamber, and could not attend to the Assembly proceedings.
Besides Khosa, sometimes Khawaja Salman Rafique, and Zaeem Qadri more frequently are given the responsibility of ‘shepherding’ the MPAs.
The government has also gone to the extent of giving breakfasts and lunches to its members, but they used to come, mark their attendance, and leave. On the other hand, quite a few of them never reached the Assembly premises, but their attendance was ‘automatically’ marked. To avoid proxies, the introduction of biometrics technology for attendance, but it was lost in the dialogue room somewhere.
Now sometimes the CM has to sit through the sessions for ensuring presence of his MPAs, whom he had also told to remain present in his meetings as well.
The next solution has been devised as well. MPAs have confided that Secretary to CM Tauqeer Shah is now roaming around the corridors and cafeteria to ensure MPAs’ attendance. This is not for the routine days, but only for important days of voting and passing of bills. “In quite a few cases, if a PML-N member has to leave the premises, he has to mention it to the politely-speaking Secretary, who will just say, Sir/Madam, this is important that you stay and take part in the voting,” revealed an MPA, while seeking strict anonymity. However, he was of the view that many members have eyebrows on this. “Most of the MPAs do not like this when they are being shepherded around like school-going children,” he added.