Senate Elections: PPP to oppose government’s proposed constitutional amendment

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) vice president Sherry Rehman declared that her party would “reject” the government-proposed constitution amendment bill for open balloting in Senate elections when it would be put to vote in the upper house, where the opposition has a majority.

In a statement, Ms Rehman questioned the government’s move to bring the constitution amendment bill in the parliament at a time when the Sup­reme Court is hearing a presidential reference on the issue. “The bill is being moved with a mala fide intention and in haste,” said Ms Rehman, who is also the parliamentary leader of the PPP in the Senate.

“Why is the government bringing the bill (before the parliament) even before a decision by the Supreme Court?” she asked.

The statement of the PPP senator came two days after the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice, headed by Riaz Fatyana of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, approved the constitution amendment bill for open balloting in the Senate elections, scheduled in March.

The committee in its meeting, which lasted less than half an hour, considered the Constitution (Twenty Sixth Amendment) Bill 2020 and recommended with majority that the bill be passed by the National Assembly.

The opposition members of the committee had opposed the sudden voting and protested over what they termed “bulldozing of the bill”.

Later, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan had said at a press conference that three amendments to the constitution would be presented in the parliament next week ahead of the coming Senate elections.

Notably, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani has backed holding Senate elections via open ballot in his response to a reference pertaining to the matter filed by the government in the Supreme Court.

In his five-page response to the SC filed through his lawyer Tariq Aziz, Sanjrani said allegations of floor-crossing (changing party loyalties) and rigging were leveled following the 2015 Senate elections after which there was a debate over the polling procedure.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan governments have also backed the federal government’s opinion of holding open-ballot polls, while Sindh has rejected the idea.

Read more: Will MQM-P support PTI in Senate Elections?

A five-judge larger bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan and Justice Yahya Afridi, hearing the reference.

The apex court had issued notices to Advocate Generals, the Election Commission of Pakistan, Chairman Senate, Speaker National Assembly and the Speakers of provincial assemblies over the issue.

PTI to emerge as the winning party?

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, opines that “if the Senate election takes place in March 2021 as scheduled, the PTI is likely to emerge as the largest party in the house, displacing the PML-N from that position”.

It is, however, important to note that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has announced to resign from the assemblies. PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is one of the parties rallying against the government. Syed Murad Shah, Chief Minister Sindh, may advise the dissolution of the assembly shortly ahead of the Senate election in March 2021 which may keep an entire province out of the election.

Mehboob writes that “in case this happens, it will be the first time that a province skips the Senate election cycle”. “Since there is no clear and explicit provision in the Constitution and the Elections Act regarding such a situation, the matter may end up in a court of law for resolution and interpretation of the Constitution,” he continued.

“This may become necessary also because fresh election of the chair and deputy chair of the Senate has to take place immediately after the March 2021 election and the absence of half the representation of a province may significantly impact the outcome of these elections,” he concluded.