A better Senate

Published March 5, 2018

THE initial reaction of the major political parties to the results of the Senate election has underlined why parliament has failed to become the fulcrum of the democratic process in the country that it ought to be.

The reaction of winners and losers has been intensely political, a reality that in and of itself is not a problem.

The Senate electorate is the people’s representatives in the country’s assemblies, which are rightly dominated by political parties.

Yet, the very composition of the Senate — equal members for the four provinces and different elected categories of senators — suggests a higher, federation-binding purpose.

But a familiar trading of allegations of vote-buying, a real problem that no party attempted to solve in good faith before the election, and a scramble to grab the Senate chairman slot in a house where no single party has anything close to a majority, suggest very different priorities of the parties themselves as compared to what the Constitution envisages.

The incoming senators have six years to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic project and interest in strengthening institutions.

The Punjab-centric focus of the PML-N and the party leadership’s near disdain for parliamentary norms and traditions have accelerated the weakening of parliament as an institution, but other parties and most senators themselves have played their part too.

It is striking how other than a handful of senators, the Senate has remained quiet about some of the most pressing issues of the times.

From missing persons to promoting a fair federation via the rights of the smaller province, especially the dire security situation in Balochistan, in general the senators have not nudged the state towards better outcomes.

If the situation is to improve, the issue of vote-buying and horse-trading must surely be addressed at the outset.

The PML-N is cheering the election of party-backed but officially independent candidates for now.

That may change as inside the Senate there are a number of new independents, particularly from Balochistan, whose political allegiances may quickly change.

If the old pattern repeats itself now, perhaps attention can be given to Imran Khan’s call for direct Senate elections.

Criticisms of the PTI’s role in perpetuating the current system aside, positive suggestions from all quarters should be considered.

The country needs a better Senate than what it has had in recent years.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2018

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