During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, even parliament has been suspended and is in indefinite recess. This is hampering discussion on crucial health and economic issues amid the crisis and also passing of important legislation.
With the ongoing lockdown restrictions and stay-at-home orders, we are increasingly using technology to stay connected. Universities are holding online classes and businesses are using video-conferencing to communicate with employees. There has been a surge in video conferencing apps like Zoom among the pandemic.
Even politicians have embraced it and are holding party meetings, committee session and cabinet meetings online. However, the prospect of holding an entire session of parliament remains a daunting task. The leaders of parliamentary parties agree that the forum of parliament should be utilised to discuss pressing issues during the pandemic but can’t seem to agree on a mechanism.
A special committee was formed by recently-inducted Food Minister Fakhar Imam to discuss the prospect of a virtual session of parliament. Political parties were of the opinion to hold a physical session of parliament and were reluctant to hold a virtual one. There is no provision in the constitution to hold such a session and amendments might be required. It is being considered to hold a session of parliament while following the SOPs and social distancing guidelines.
It would be an improbable task if a National Assembly session is summoned and parliamentarians arrive in Islamabad. Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry called holding a virtual session as need of the hour. He said politicians shouldn’t be afraid to use technology as these are unusual times and physical sessions can be held once the situation normalizes. It needs to be seen if Pakistan will conduct this experiment.
This will not be the first of its kind as other countries have held a virtual session of parliament. Canada held one last week which went smoothly despite some technical glitches and interruptions. In the UK, a new form of parliament session called a ‘hybrid’ system is being held in which only 50 members are present and the rest either vote from home or in the next session. Members are made to sit six feet apart and it is said that parliament has moved from the 17th to 21st Century within just three weeks.
Pakistan could conduct a similar session by ensuring the minimum quorum is complete to hold a session. There should be innovative ways to make the system function as these are not normal circumstances and the democratic process should go on.