Opposition resignations unlikely to hamper Senate poll process

Published December 10, 2020
ISLAMABAD: PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman along with PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz talking to media after a meeting on Wednesday. —Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: PDM president Maulana Fazlur Rehman along with PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz talking to media after a meeting on Wednesday. —Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: Legal and constitutional experts in the country are found to have unanimous opinion that the opposition through the planned en masse resignations of their members from the assemblies cannot stop the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) from acquiring majority in the upper house of the parliament after the Senate elections in March 2021, because laws and the Constitution are silent on any specific requirement related to number of lawmakers to be present in the house for voting.

“The absence of the members from the provincial assemblies does not matter in the Senate polls,” said veteran politician and constitutional expert S.M. Zafar when contacted after a statement by the opposition’s Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) convener Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the Senate elections, if conducted through the present legislatures, would be “fake”.

Talking to journalists after an “informal” meeting of PDM leaders at his residence on Wednesday, the Maulana stated that breaking the electoral college was also part of the democratic process. He told reporters that the opposition parties were consulting constitutional experts to seek their opinion about the legitimacy of the Senate elections if conducted through an ‘incomplete’ electoral college after en masse resignations of opposition lawmakers from the assemblies.

Laws are silent on number of legislators in attendance for voting process

Of the total 1,090 lawmakers in the national and all the four provincial assemblies, 494 belong to the PDM member parties indicating that the Senate will lose 45 per cent of its electoral college if all the opposition members in all the assemblies submit resignations in line with the PDM plan. It reveals that except in Sindh, more than 50pc electoral college of the Senate will be present.

Mr Zafar said the Senate elections were required to be held before retirement of half of its members as per the Constitution and the absence of the members from the provincial assemblies because of any reason did not matter at all in the Senate polls.

Former attorney general Ashtar Ali Ausaf also said that the resignations of the opposition members would not matter in the Senate polls, which are due in March next year after the completion of the six-year term of 54 senators — half of the total 104 members.

In the laws and mode of elections for the Senate, the ex-AG said it was mentioned that those in attendance in respective provincial assemblies may cast their votes to elect senators. He was of the opinion that despite resignations of the opposition members, the electoral college would remain intact.

Mr Ausaf said the maximum time limit for holding by-elections on vacant seats of the assemblies was 90 days, but in order to avert any crisis, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) might hold elections on vacant seats early. In this scenario, he believed that tendering resignations would not benefit the opposition with regard to the Senate elections and such a move could be counterproductive. “This only works if lawmakers from the allied parties of the ruling coalition also tender resignations along with the opposition,” he said.

A Supreme Court lawyer, Kashif Ali Malik, said there was no provision in the Constitution that had fixed minimum number of lawmakers and the Constitution and the laws were silent on the matter.

While in such a situation court might interpret the law, the judiciary had mostly showed restraint on political matters, he said. However, he added, the courts could take up the matter to avert any crisis-like situation in the country. He said the opposition, therefore, should not expect any favourable judicial verdict.

A senior PPP leader and constitutional expert, when contacted, also endorsed the opinion of the legal experts, but questioned as to what would be the moral backing of such a Senate whose members would have been elected by the legislatures without the opposition.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2020

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