Senate voting ordinance

If held under a secret ballot, the Senate elections will unveil how deep perceived cracks within PTI coalition are

February 08, 2021

If held under a secret ballot, the Senate elections will unveil how deep — or how shallow, for that matter — the perceived cracks within the ruling coalition are, and how far they could be exploited by the combined opposition in the future — like for a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister. That is why the PTI wants an open, identifiable ballot in the elections to the Upper House at all costs, and that is also why the opposition is dead against it, and wants the same old practice of secret ballot to continue, even at the cost of fairness.

PTI has, thus, left no stone unturned to, what it says, reform the Senate election voting process. It has approached all possible forums for ‘redress’. The ruling party first moved the Supreme Court and sought its advisory opinion. While the top court proceedings were — and still are — in progress, it tabled a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly. And now — when the word from the court is awaited and the lower house has rejected the move — it has got the President’s Office promulgated an ordinance to amend the Elections Act, 2017 to hold Senate vote through open ballot. What, by the way should we call it — confusion, desperation or apprehension?

Many an expert believes that the presidential ordinance — despite being conditional to a judgment from the Supreme Court — has come into force and the elections act stands amended. Many others, however, have a differing viewpoint, one of whom insists that an ordinance can never overrule the Constitution which is a supreme legislation. The Pakistan Bar Council too sees mala fide behind the move. There is thus a constitutional debate on what is being called a ‘presumptive legislation’. Apart from being lawful or otherwise, it’s a matter of constitutional morality to issue a ruling over a six-year-long senator-ship through a presidential ordinance, with 90-day validity — something that does bypass parliament and turns out to a backdoor way of making constitutional changes.

The opposition has announced moving the top court against the ‘constitutional mess’ the ordinance has thrown the country into. The opposition insists that by tabling the 26th amendment bill in the lower house, the government has accepted that a change in the Senate voting mode requires a constitutional amendment which cannot be done through a presidential ordinance. To the opposition, the presidential ordinance is an attempt to pressure the Supreme Court, and a means to rig the Senate elections and make them controversial.

Well, can anybody question the PTI’s opposition to the prevailing mode of voting in Senate on legal grounds? Indeed, the ruling party’s distaste for the secret ballot coincides with principles. But why didn’t the party care about principles when, in August 2019, the opposition had brought a no-confidence motion against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani? If it had not been for a secret ballot, Sanjrani would have been sent packing because, based on his numerical support in the upper house, he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell to survive. Also, PTI’s very own Chaudhry Sarwar had secured a Senate seat from Punjab even though the party did not enjoy the required support from the relevant MPAs. Bottom line: our politicians only follow principles so long as they make political sense to them. Meanwhile, let’s keep our fingers crossed on how 46 new senators will be elected in the next month’s vote — through an open ballot or a secret one.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2021.

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