With election to half of the Senate seats due to be held on March 3, the political discourse has been dominated by rival narratives regarding the desirable way to elect Senators
With election to half the Senate seats due to be held on March 3, the political discourse has been dominated by rival narratives regarding the desirable way to select/elect Senators. Should the select leader of the political parties or the individual legislators who constitute the electoral college exercise the choice? Does proportional representation mentioned in the Constitution mean proportionality among federating units or among political parties? Does a secret ballot ensure independence of the voter and thereby protect against coercion or does an open ballot ensure transparency and eradicate corruption? Should the Supreme Court have a say in this or leave it to the parliament?
Earlier this month, the president, acting on the advice of the prime minister, promulgated an ordinance providing for Senate elections through a show of hands instead of a secret ballot. The government says show of hands would prevent corruption. The opposition, on the other hand, claims that divided against itself, the PTI fears a silent revolt by its legislators and is trying to coerce them into toeing the party line. The party, they say, needed to pick candidates popular with its members rather than imposing on them. In the Punjab Aoun Abbas’s nomination is said to have been opposed within the party. In Sindh, several members have demanded the nomination of an ethnic Sindhi. No wonder, the party is fearful of the outcome in the event of an election by secret ballot.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) strategy of fielding joint candidates against the government coalition consisting of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), the Balochistan Awami Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid appears designed to hold the balance of the house in its favour. For the general seat to represent Islamabad, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has been nominated by the PDM in a direct competition with the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Finance Hafeez Sheikh. Even the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, set to lose the largest number of Senators may benefit from the adjustments and squeeze another seat or two.
An open ballot election also threatens to further diminish the role of the smaller parties and independents that have frequently held the balance in the house and been instrumental in arriving at important legislation.