• Says constitution can’t be amended through ordinance
• Maryam, Fazl discuss Senate elections, long march
ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties on Saturday rejected the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 and termed it an attempt by the government to “pressurise” the Supreme Court to decide the presidential reference seeking open Senate vote in its favour.
The country’s two major political parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — declared the move “illegal and unconstitutional”, saying the constitution could not be amended through an ordinance.
Talking to Dawn on Saturday, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said after plunging the country into an administrative chaos, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was now putting the country into a constitutional mess.
He said by introducing the constitution amendment bill in the National Assembly only a few days ago, the government had admitted that it required a constitution amendment if it wanted to hold the Senate elections through an open vote.
“Now the government has chosen to amend the constitution through an ordinance,” he said.
“This is a mockery of democracy and it will go in the annuls of legal history [of the country] that a conditional ordinance was issued linking its implementation with a favourable decision by the Supreme Court,” he said. “It is tantamount to forcing the Supreme Court to decide the reference in the government’s favour.
“We believe that after this flagrant violation of the constitution and the law, the Supreme Court should send the reference back to the government and should not become a victim of the political trap which the government has laid for it,” he said.
Replying to a question, Mr Iqbal said the PML-N would consult its legal experts over the option to challenge the promulgation of the ordinance in the court.
Deputy spokesman for the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) Hafiz Hamdullah said in a statement the promulgation of the ordinance was a violation of Article 226 of the Constitution and an attempt to “dictate” the Supreme Court. He said the ordinance was also an expression of no trust in the judiciary.
He said the “incompetent government” was trying to impose its decisions through ordinances. He asked the court to refer the matter related to the Senate elections back to parliament.
Earlier, speaking at a news conference, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari rejected the government’s move to promulgate the ordinance and alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan wanted to “rig” the coming Senate elections and make them controversial.
The PPP chairman said a constitution amendment could not be introduced through an ordinance. He questioned the logic behind the government’s move, saying when the presidential reference was still in the Supreme Court, what the point was behind taking this step? “Are you [PTI] trying to put pressure on the apex court? Or are you feeling [pressure] from the [PDM] and trying to influence the country’s institutions?” he asked.
“Imran Khan is shivering inside and making weak attempts because he does not trust his members,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said.
“If the government wanted to bring a constitution amendment why did it not contact political parties in the assembly to evolve a consensus on the issue?” he asked.
The PPP chairman said the issue of open Senate vote came under discussion at a meeting of the PDM a couple of days ago and all the parties believed that “open ballot can only be a part of a comprehensive electoral reforms package and that can only and only be passed through the parliament and no other institution has a role in legislation.”
Responding to questions, he said holding a long march was a democratic way to protest. He said it was clearly written in the action plan of the PDM that the option of no-confidence motion would be used against the government.
The PPP chairman said the PDM had decided to jointly contest the Senate elections and it must be making some difference “this is why Imran Khan is worried.”
He said dislodging the “puppet government” was only a short-term goal of the PDM struggle whereas the long-term goals included getting rid of the establishment’s interference in politics and correcting the whole system by bringing all the institutions within their constitutional jurisdictions.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari denied that there was any contradiction in the PPP’s stance regarding the PDM’s strategy. He said there were few parties in the PDM which had called for a boycott of the Senate polls. However, all the parties later realised that by doing so, they would provide an opportunity to the PTI to get a super majority in the Senate.
He recalled that when the PPP had boycotted the 1985 elections, the 8th Constitution Amendment was passed by the parliament and then it took them over 25 years to bring the constitution back to its original form and during this movement, her mother Benazir Bhutto even lost her life.
The PPP chairman said he had trust in his party’s lawmakers and they would never disappoint him. He said the PDM had decided not to hold dialogue with the establishment.
Meanwhile, PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz called on PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman at the latter’s residence to discuss the strategy for the coming Senate elections and the plans to hold the long march for which the PDM has set the date of March 26.
Sources said the two leaders discussed various options regarding the duration of the long march and the place for the possible sit-in. The sources said the two leaders also discussed the option of challenging the Senate election ordinance in the court.
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2021