Repair work for Senate

March 07, 2015

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Before the Senate can begin to recover its reputation though, there is the business of avoiding yet more damage.—INP/File
Before the Senate can begin to recover its reputation though, there is the business of avoiding yet more damage.—INP/File

SURVEYING the wreckage that has become the 2015 Senate elections, this much is already clear: the upper house of parliament has a serious repair job ahead of it in terms of recovering its reputation and reinstating itself in the public imagination as a forum where serious, sober and informed debate is possible.

To be sure, few — if any — candidates have been elected to the Senate solely on the basis of vote-buying and without the support of a political party with representation in one of the assemblies.

Also read: Senate election and its set of controversies

But the perception of these elections has been fundamentally shaped by several other factors: the mismanagement of their parties and the electoral process by the PML-N and PTI; wild speculation in sections of the media; and a welter of allegations on election day itself, leading to unprecedented disruptions of the polling process.

That is a stain no house should have and surely not the Senate, which in its composition and design is meant to be above bare-knuckled, winner-takes-all politics.

Before the Senate can begin to recover its reputation though, there is the business of avoiding yet more damage. When the new members of the Senate will be sworn in next week and the house will convene to elect a chairman and deputy chairman, there is an obvious problem: the PPP and PML-N will have near-equal representation in the Senate.

So which party will get its senator elected as chairman? For the PPP, retaining the Senate chairmanship will act as a useful riposte to the growing criticism that it has been reduced to a regional party from interior Sindh.

For the PML-N, control of the Senate will aid its legislative agenda in parliament and rebut the allegation that it is essentially a Punjab-only party. But with roughly one-fourth of the votes in the Senate each, if the PML-N and PPP do decide to contest the Senate chairmanship, then both sides will need to reach out to the other parties in the Senate — triggering another potentially damaging round of speculation and allegations of vote-buying and arm-twisting.

There is also the issue of the PTI. It has yet to allow its members to return to the National Assembly and if its six senators also stay away from Senate proceedings, it will add to the perception of parliament being an incomplete forum.

Beyond that perhaps what the Senate should look to focus on is ramping up its legislative and oversight agenda. The wealth of talent and professional expertise — and not plain wealth in monetary terms — in the Senate remains high with this new set of legislators.

There is no other legislative body in the country with specially reserved seats for technocrats and ulema and many of the parties send some of their most experienced and competent members to the upper house. Surely, the best response to scandal is to get down to business quickly.

Published in Dawn March 7th , 2015

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