Ordinance will ‘die’ if SC rejects reference, says govt

Published February 8, 2021
In this file photo, Babar Awan meets Imran Khan at the PM Secretariat. — Photo courtesy Fahad Chaudhry
In this file photo, Babar Awan meets Imran Khan at the PM Secretariat. — Photo courtesy Fahad Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: Amid sharp criticism by opposition parties of the promulgation of the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 for open vote in the coming Senate polls, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan has explained that if the Supreme Court does not support the presidential reference, the ordinance will die immediately.

While talking to Dawn on Sunday, the PM’s aide said the government introduced the presidential ordinance with the sunset clause as it would die if an SC decision in the presidential reference came against open vote and before the Senate polls.

President Arif Alvi on December 23, last year approved Prime Minister Imran Khan’s proposal seeking SC opinion on holding of the Senate elections through open ballot. However, the government on Saturday promulgated the ordinance for open vote in Senate elections before an SC decision on the matter.

Awan points out the move was possible only before announcement of Senate elections schedule

The opposition accused the government of taking the country into constitutional crisis by introducing the ‘controversial’ ordinance only two days after the session of both Senate and the National Assembly was prorogued.

Asked why the ordinance had been promulgated ‘in haste’, Mr Awan explained the government wanted to introduce it before Thursday (Feb 11) when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was expected to announce the Senate elections schedule as the Election Act 2017 could not be amended once the schedule was announced. He argued that the government had table the constitution amendment bill on Wednesday with the clear intention of curbing the trend of horse-trading and use of money in the Senate polls, but the opposition marred the session by hooliganism. The Senate and National Assembly session lasted over three weeks yet the opposition did not utter a single word to justify their stance against open vote in Senate, he said.

The adviser on parliamentary affairs said that under the Charter of Democracy that the main opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People Party (PPP) — signed in 2006 they agreed to block the way of horse trading in the parliament. But when the government was making an attempt to curb horse trading, they both were opposing it, he added.

Responding to a question why President Alvi had to promulgate the ordinance, the adviser said the president had not violated constitutional norms by promulgating the ordinance as under Article 50 of the Constitution the president was a part of the parliament. He read out the article that stated: “There shall be a Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament) of Pakistan consisting of the president and two Houses to be known respectively as the National Assembly and the Senate.”

Providing further justification, he also read out Article 86 of the Constitution that stated: “The president may, except when the [Senate or] National Assembly is in session, if satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action, make and promulgate an Ordinance as the circumstances may require.”

A source privy to the development said the idea of promulgating the ordinance was flouted by Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan and it was endorsed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Law Minister Farogh Naseem also supported the idea. There was no opposition to the idea by any of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders, the source disclosed.

Interestingly, the proposal to seek Supreme Court’s opinion under Article 186 of the Constitution had also been floated by the attorney general.

So far, the ECP has been completely silent on the government move to amend the Elections Act. The elections are to be held for 52 seats of the upper house of the parliament, as half of the 104 Senate members will retire on March 11.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2021

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