As the government has promulgated the presidential ordinance to hold the Senate election through an open ballot, the main opposition parties seem to be ‘angry’. Senior leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on Sunday described the government’s move as an attack on parliament and the Constitution and an attempt to pressurize the court that is seized with a presidential reference on the same matter.
Addressing a press conference with Senator Raza Rabbani, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said: “PPP is a staunch supporter of transparency in elections but the overnight ordinance introduced by the government one day after both the houses of parliament were prorogued is a clear attack on the parliament’s inalienable right to amend the Constitution, as well as pressure on the court which is seized with the same matter in yet another move via presidential reference.
Reacting to the government move, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said the ‘selected’ government after administrative turmoil was pushing the country towards constitutional anarchy. “The ordinance is another worst attack on the Constitution,” he said while speaking to the media in Narowal.
He warned that if this “unconstitutional move” was upheld, the 18th Amendment might also be rolled back through a presidential ordinance, while another such ordinance might be promulgated to restore Article 58(2)(b) (of the Constitution that gave the president the power to dissolve the National Assembly in his discretion).
Why government introduced the Ordinance?
According to sources, the decision for introducing the presidential ordinance was taken after the opposition staged a demonstration in the National Assembly on Thursday and blocked the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill, tabled by the government for holding Senate polls through the open ballot.
Earlier, 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.
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.
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.