Is Senate ready to discuss presidential ordinance?

The decision for introducing the presidential ordinance was taken after the opposition staged a demonstration in the National Assembly and blocked the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill, tabled by the government for holding Senate polls through the open ballot.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani has convened a session of the upper house of parliament on Saturday morning (Feb 20) on the requisition of the opposition on a one-point agenda to discuss the presidential ordinance promulgated by the government on Feb 6, seeking open Senate vote.

The session has been called at a time when a presidential reference on the same subject is still being heard by the Supreme Court and the Senate elections are merely two weeks away.

The opposition parties had submitted the requisition notice to the Senate Secretariat on Feb 8, two days after the government had promulgated the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 amending the Elections Act 2017 for the use of an “open and identifiable ballot” in the upcoming and future Senate elections. The government had got federal cabinet’s approval of its move through a circulation.

Through the one-point agenda, the opposition members said they wanted to have a debate on “the unprecedented and controversial presidential ordinance promulgated with mala fide intent that seeks to change the Senate election procedure, which is an election under the Constitution rendering the process of Senate election controversial”.

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 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.

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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.

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“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.

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