National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza has said her role is not merely that of a postman in sending a reference to the Chief Election Commissioner against the Prime Minister, and that she was using the time given by the Constitution to apply her mind. In an interview to a private TV channel, Speaker Mirza said that while she never said she would not abide by the Constitution, Parliament consisted of people’s representatives. While the Speaker may indeed have been put in her place by the goodwill of the PPP, however, her office is supposed to be non-partisan. Where former Speakers have become Chief Ministers or even Prime Minister, like our current Prime Minister himself, and where the President (supposedly another non-partisan office) is also the PPP Chairman, Speaker Mirza must not allow even the shadow of party feeling to hang over her decision. She has gone into the question, perhaps needlessly, of whether Parliament or the Supreme Court was supreme. More relevant is which institution is responsible for interpreting the law.

As Speaker Mirza noted, the Supreme Court interprets the law finally, and thus she is bound to follow that interpretation. If Parliament wants something else done, it has to pass legislation, which again will be interpreted by the Supreme Court. If Parliament is not willing to pass legislation, then the Speaker must act on the basis of existing law and Supreme Court rulings. If the impression has been created, as it has, that the Speaker is applying her mind primarily to bailing the Prime Minister out, that in itself would make for an unfortunate situation, where the Speaker, to preserve the non-partisan nature of her office, would have to rule against the Prime Minister.

On the other hand, the task is not the most difficult Speaker Mirza has faced, nor is there all that much to be decided. The question of the Prime Minister’s membership is not to be decided, merely whether a question about it has arisen. The question itself must be decided by the Chief Election Commissioner, and it is certainly a factor that the office is vacant and can only be filled on the Prime Minister’s recommendation. However, the Speaker does not have to decide the issue, just do whatever legally constituted authorities instruct her to. That would not only enhance the prestige of those authorities, but also of Parliament and its Speaker. While Speaker Mirza is right in not going by anyone’s expectations, she should remember that if she indeed goes by the law and Constitution, she would be fulfilling the expectations the public entertains of her office.