Apex court questions secret alliances for Senate polls

Raza Rabbani says apex court presenting an ideal scenario of proportional representation


Waqas Ahmed/Saqib Bashir February 20, 2021

ISLAMABAD:

The apex court has noted that if some political parties want to form an alliance for Senate elections then such an alliance should be public and not a secret one.

“If a party wants to form an alliance with another party [for Senate polls] then it should do so openly. Is it necessary to conceal an inter-provincial alliance [among political parties with power bases in different provinces]?” said Supreme Court judge Ijazul Ahsan on Friday.

Justice Ahsan was part of a five-judge larger bench hearing a presidential reference that seeks the apex court’s opinion on introducing open ballot mode in the upcoming Senate elections.

Appearing before the bench, former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani gave arguments against introducing open ballot in Senate elections both in his personal capacity and as a part of the PPP, the second largest opposition party.

Rabbani said the Senate – the upper house of the parliament – was formed under the 1973 Constitution in order to give equal representation to all provinces or federating units in a bid to end a sense of alienation among smaller provinces.

He said while the National Assembly represents the people, the Senate represents the federating units and the two houses never work in complete agreement.

“Rather, a disagreement between the two houses is all too natural. In fact, the two houses never work in unison in the parliamentary democracy,” he added.

The PPP leader said it is not necessary that a party that gains majority in the Centre also gains majority in the provinces. “The proportion of seats in the Senate can also change due to an alliance of the opposition parties,” he said in a reference to the SC’s earlier observations.

During hearing of the same reference on Wednesday, the bench noted that the seats of any political party in the Senate should be according to their existing number of seats in provincial legislatures and that a disproportionate representation in the upper house could lead to a collapse of the entire system.

“I will present my detailed arguments on proportional representation, secret balloting and application of Article 266 on Senate polls on Monday,” Rabbani said. Justice Ahsan observed that both Article 51 and Article 59 make mention of proportional representation of political parties in the Senate.

“An alliance among political parties also does not change anything. If a political party wants to make an alliance, it should do this publically,” the judge added.

Rabbani said that under Article 51, election to reserved seats [for women and minorities] takes place through proportional representation system of political parties’ lists of candidates while under Article 59, voting is used to ensure proportional representation.

“The concept of proportional representation which the court is presenting is an ideal scenario but the political situation is never ideal,” the former Senate chairman contended.

He said the ruling PTI and the PML-Q are allies in the Punjab Assembly and the PTI has also offered a Senate seat to the PML-Q. Justice Ahsan, however, reiterated that in the Senate the political parties should get seats in proportion to their seats in the provincial legislatures.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial, another member of the bench, observed that many times political parties also make seat adjustments with political parties of other provinces. “Why is it necessary to keep such inter-provincial deals secret?” he asked.

Raza Rabbani said there is a difference between horse-trading and political alliance. “Political alliances [for Senate elections] are often kept secret. Horse-trading takes place when a private person tries to get elected as a senator,” he added. The court adjourned hearing till Monday.

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