Opposition rejects ordinance on open Senate vote – Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Saturday rejected the ordinance seeking open voting for the upper house of parliament, with PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani going to the extent of demanding impeachment of President Dr Arif Alvi for promulgating the ordinance to “advance the ruling party’s agenda”.

Taking part in the discussion on the presidential ordinance, the one-point agenda of the requisitioned session, Mr Rabbani accused the president of violating the Constitution.

He said the president knew a constitution amendment bill was already in the National Assembly even then he sent a reference to the Supreme Court. The president also knew he had prorogued the two houses of parliament and next day promulgated an ordinance on the Senate polls despite knowing that the reference was pending before the apex court.

“Today we should have discussed a resolution of impeachment under Article 47 of the Constitution against the president,” Mr Rabbani contended.

Rabbani calls for impeachment of president

The former chairman of the Senate said that under Article 89 of the Constitution, the ordinance should have been laid in either of the two houses in its first sitting of the session (after promulgation of the ordinance). While the National Assembly met on Friday and the Senate on Saturday, the ordinance was laid neither in the assembly nor in the upper house.

He argued that the ordinance was meant for temporary legislation as the Supreme Court had declared several times that such legislation was temporary and it could last maximum for 120 days and then die automatically, if not enacted and again it could be put aside through a resolution of disapproval.

“If the Senate polls are held under the ordinance, then it would have its repercussions and there a floodgate of litigations will open as to whether or not the elections were valid, once the ordinance lapses. Just to prevent a revolt in the party (PTI), the constitutional institutions are being undermined,” he said.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Senator Shibli Faraz said the opposition should have supported open Senate elections. “We have to end the politics of buying and selling votes in the Senate elections.”

He called for restoring sanctity of the house by bringing transparency to the election process.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan objected to certain parts of the speech of Mr Rabbani and asked whether it was not a no-trust with regards to the matter pending before the apex court.

Referring to sub-article II of Article 89, he said the ordinance would have force and effect as an act of parliament and then asked had a stranger promulgated the ordinance? “Article 50 defines the parliament, consisting of the president and its two houses. If it is wrongly written, then let us change it,” Mr Awan said. “If this presidential ordinance is bad, then take out all the ordinances, martial law regulations and LFOs from the Constitution.”

He said the president could exclusively exercise advisory jurisdiction under Article 186.

As for impeachment, Mr Babar said, they (opposition) would be welcomed. It would be fought and it would fail like impeachment twice against a US president could not succeed.

He said whatever decision would come from the Supreme Court, it would be before March 3 and would be implemented.

Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq said the opposition supported the position taken by the Election Commission of Pakistan that the voting should be through secret ballot as per the Constitution and that through an ordinance, the Constitution could not be amended.

Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem agreed that through the ordinance, the Constitution was not being amended.

Citing a report of the Committee of the Whole on the subject, which was brought to the Senate in May 2016, he said one of the recommendations for bringing transparency to the Senate polls was writing the name of a lawmaker on the ballot paper so that the voter could be identified if a party head wanted to verify whether or not he or she had complied with the party line and if he or she had violated it. Then there was also mention of de-seating a member defying the party line by invoking the defection clause, he added.

He said the Senate was meant to give proportional representation to political parties, being its underlining spirit, but the element of money and other offers would kill this spirit and the lawmakers would go for petty interests.

Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami supported the call for the president’s impeachment and said he (president) had transgressed his powers by waiting for the two houses to be prorogued to promulgate an ordinance.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said: “It is the prime minister’s resolve to bring about transparency and do away with the role of money in politics.”

The session was prorogued after the motion was talked out.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2021