Youth Parliaments are mock parliaments, organized in many democratic countries including England, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Its main purpose is to develop values and culture of democracy, politics and leadership in the young. The inspiration behind youth parliaments, in my humble opinion, can be traced to Plato, who propounded that lack of interest in politics gives rise to a rule of the wicked and inferior persons. Moreover, the awareness among electoral schools regarding parliamentary procedures, conventions and cultures is imperative for restoring their confidence and faith in democracy. Such exercises are necessary for a country like Pakistan where DUE TO highly questionable practices of governance, chequered history of civil-military relations and lack of literacy, democracy is rarely celebrated.
Considering that 60% of Pakistani population consist of the YOUTH, it is necessary to make them aware of how their legislature functions. The most well-planned Youth Parliament in Pakistan is the one organised by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency’s (PILDAT) Youth Parliament Pakistan (YPP) in Islamabad. For each annual Youth Parliament, five sessions are held, each consisting of around 60 young individuals. The members are selected from all constituencies of the country through a highly competitive selection process which includes an interview with YPP officials and sitting Members of the Pakistan National Assembly. Members are selected without distinguishing their religion, race, culture or language and equal opportunities are accorded to religious minorities as well as those suffering from a disability. There is diverse geographical representation from metropolitan cities like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad to the under-developed villages and remote areas. It was immensely gratifying for me to witness many under-represented communities in the YPP, especially women from remote areas of Pakistan, who had the requisite courage to participate in this exercise.
As soon as YPP notified all successful applicants regarding their selection, the road towards selection of the leadership for both parties was mapped. A couple of members, including me, filed their nomination papers with YPP. This process was followed by the lobbying campaign, which was mostly done through social media groups. The session began on July 1st, 2016 and it was only on the day of commencement that all prospective leaders got an opportunity to interact with the electoral school through speeches. All the candidates made very interesting speeches and to the best of their ability, tried to solicit votes from the members. In my speech, the only commitment that I firmly rendered to the members was that no one amongst them would remain un-represented. After the conclusion of the speeches, elections were held through a secret ballot on the same day. The elections had to be held thrice since the results in first two rounds were not reflective of simple majority in favor of any single candidate and it was in the third round of elections that I was elected as a “Leader of the House” for the session with majority votes.
Soon after assuming the office by taking an oath, I could apprehend, without any further ado, the hefty number of responsibilities that had fallen on my shoulders. It was not, by any stretch of imagination, a bed of roses to represent around 50 best of the best chosen people. The responsibilities of Leader of the House entailed the duty to finalize the business for each legislative day’s plenary session. It was natural for each member to want his/her business to be transacted/presented in the plenary session however the available time and slots for presenting businesses in the said sessions were limited and exhaustive. Despite this, I had to fulfill the guarantees of adequate representation made in my election speech, further necessitated by integrity of the office that I held. As a matter of strategy and keeping in view the above stated limitations, I requested members with common legislative business interests to liaise with each other and present collectively their businesses in the preliminary sessions. It was nonetheless my responsibility to spot candidates with mutual interests from the compiled list of businesses, call them at a mutual place, make them sit together and ask them to harmonize and synchronize their businesses. At times, it required all-nighters and a very nominal amount of sleep but nonetheless, the promises made had to be performed. During the plenary sessions, I had an opportunity to very closely observe the legislative process and intricacies thereof. I learned how bills/resolutions/motion/attention notices are presented in the Parliament, followed by the inception of debates thereon and their subsequent culmination into a validly passed legislative document. During the deliberative phase in the plenary sessions, the opposition party walked out several times to record their protest however it is noteworthy that through mutual conciliation and negotiations, the opposition party joined back the sessions and continued their participation. This gesture, undoubtedly, reflected the beauty of democracy where disputes are resolved through talks and peaceful conciliations rather than violence and bloodsheds.
YPP was divided into two political parties; blue party and green party, each having a distinct manifesto and divergent ideological subscriptions. As a matter of strategy, the strength of parliamentarians in each party varied in order for them to be divided into ruling and opposition parties. Both parties severally elect their Leaders and jointly elect a speaker. YPP has its own set of binding rules and procedures, which mostly replicate that of National Assembly of Pakistan. YPP also has five steering committees; each dealing with a separate and critical national issue. During the sessions, members of these committees were required to examine current government policies on their designated areas, identify problems and loop-holes present therein and propose adequate policy recommendations to cure the identified problems. I, as part of Standing Committee on Electoral and Political reforms, along with my committee members, proposed REFORMS FOR strengthening the legal framework for intra-party elections in order to eliminate political dynasties from Pakistani politics.
In furtherance of the aims and objectives of YPP, several guest lectures and interactive sessions with journalists, politicians, lawyers, constitutional experts and communication experts etc. were also programmed. Amidst many valuable and constructive sessions, the most notable one was A visit TO CALL ON BY the serving Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali. I was designated by YPP to represent my party members before the Chief Justice and interact with him on their behalf. Being a young lawyer, it was a great honour for me to interact with the highest judicial office holder of the country. I began the session with introducing YPP, followed by asking questions on behalf of my party. His tone while answering our questions was clothed with humility. Each sentence, when uttered, was an articulated statement of wisdom, backed by experience and knowledge gained over decades. Amongst all his comments, the most notable observation was in regards to Article 184(3) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973. Article 184(3) provides the Supreme Court (apex Court of the country) with a power to take a suo motu notice on matters of public importance or where it appears that breach of fundamental rights of any person is at issue. In the past, an ex-Chief Justice of the country had used this power extensively, however, at the cost of huge criticism. When present Chief Justice was asked regarding his stance on the Article 184(3), his views were different from past practice. He opined that the principle of separation of powers is among the fundamental principles and values of our Constitution; while Article 184(3) is an important tool for the judiciary to prevent grave violations of human rights, this tool should be used in exceptional circumstances only and with an ample amount of caution, mainly because; (a) it blurs the lines premised by doctrine of tracheotomy of power; and (b) a person aggrieved by a decision of the apex Court rendered in a suo motu case is left with almost no appellate forums. At the conclusion of our visit, he had tea with the young parliamentarians and wished them all luck in their endeavors.
Amongst the young parliamentarians, there were engineers, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, prospective government officers/civil servants, business-men, managers, journalists etc. As a law graduate of the University of London and having gained some experience in teaching law at the Pakistan College of Law, the experience of being part of the YPP was out of the ordinary and extremely enlightening for me. It was pretty enlightening for me to learn how people from other professions look at the parliament and its functioning, in particular, the legislative process. Moreover, the diversity amongst the members of YPP promoted national harmony and enabled people living in developed cities of the country to gain know how of problems experienced by people living in under-developed areas, such as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
In order to enable peoples’ confidence in democracy and its efficient rule, it is imperative to provide learning opportunities to the youth regarding the functioning of democracy and how laws are made. Such exercises are fundamental for training future leaders and parliamentarians since they do not only create aspiration among the youth to participate effectively in politics and legislative process but also provides them with the basic know-how of procedure followed by legislatures. Every democratic country, especially the ones with larger youth populations, should introduce and organize such youth parliaments in order to effectuate the democracy and peoples’ confidence in the same. All the young parliamentarians were evaluated through out the sessions and the best participants, which included me, have now been selected for a foreign study trip to observe and absorb functioning, procedure and practices in other legislatures/parliaments of the world. Being part of YPP has given me the confidence to aspire towards becoming more politically active person in the future of my country, after all lawyers have contributed so much towards political developments in all countries of the world.