IT ended in circumstances as controversial as the ones that gave birth to it. The 15th National Assembly — formed following the chaotic general elections of 2018 — stood dissolved on Thursday on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s advice, merely two days before it was to complete its constitutional, five-year tenure.

Over its term, it saw two prime ministers sworn into office. One was constitutionally removed for his mismanagement of the economy; the other is about to leave Pakistani democracy considerably compromised. In roughly the same period, two former prime ministers were handed disqualification and jail terms for “corrupt practices”.

And, over the entirety of this period, Pakistan was run less like the democratic parliamentary republic envisaged in the Constitution and more like a hybrid system in which elected representatives took most of the blame while their ‘handlers’ took most of the decisions.



Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is perhaps not wrong in regretting that the outgoing Assembly may have been “the worst in Pakistan’s history”. It not only failed in its fiduciary duty under two separate governments, but it also actively undermined Parliament by ceding unprecedented power to unelected quarters.

Former prime minister Imran Khan set the tone by outsourcing his government’s control to the intelligence apparatus. The latter whipped up votes and coddled or coerced the PTI’s coalition partners when the prime minister himself was not in the mood to play nice.

The then opposition, too, did not help matters by creating what was sometimes an overly hostile environment, pushing the thin-skinned PTI leadership to opt for ordinances to execute its legislative goals. The PDM tenure saw a continuation of the same once the new government realised that it, too, had little patience or will to play by the rules when ‘easier’ solutions existed.



The transference of power from elected to unelected decision-makers intensified following the May 9 violence this year, as extensive control over internal affairs was handed over to the security establishment. Its influence has now crept into economic decision-making, industry, and, lately, legislative business.

But the 15th Assembly is no more, and the upcoming elections offer an opportunity to undo its mistakes. The aspirants to the 16th National Assembly must demand that the polls follow the constitutionally defined schedule and be conducted in a free and fair environment. They owe this to their constituents.

The next setup must avoid the controversies that dogged the last one if it is to return any stability to the country. Any attempts to extend the tenure of the caretaker government or influence election results through pre-poll engineering should be resisted across the board. If the last five years have taught us anything, it is that tinkering with the democratic process is a recipe for disaster.

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