ISLAMABAD: With the controversy over the issue of government-proposed open vote mechanism in the Senate elections still unresolved and amid allegations against MPAs of trading their votes, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday announced the schedule for holding the election on 48 seats of the upper house of parliament, setting March 3 as polling day.
According to the schedule announced by the ECP through a notification, returning officers would start receiving nomination papers from aspiring candidates on Friday (today) and the candidates could submit the papers by Saturday.
The ECP would publish names of the candidates on Feb 14 and conduct scrutiny of the nomination papers on Feb 15 and 16.
Appeals against acceptance or rejection of the nomination papers can be filed on Feb 17 and 18 which will be disposed of by a tribunal on Feb 19 and 20.
The ECP will publish a revised list of the candidates on Feb 21, providing an opportunity to the candidates to withdraw from the race by Feb 22 after which a final list of the candidates will be issued.
Polling to elect 48 senators from Islamabad and all the four provinces will be held from 9am to 5pm simultaneously at the Parliament House in Islamabad and in the buildings of the provincial assemblies.
The notification has been issued by the ECP “in pursuance of Section 107 of the Election Act, 2017, read with Clause 3 of Article 59 and Clause 3 of Article 224 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Senate (Election of Members from the Federal Capital) Order 2018.”
As many as 52 senators are set to retire — 50 per cent of the 104-member house — on March 11 after completing their six-year tenure. However, this time there will be no polling for the four seats of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) after its merger with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2018.
Therefore, the polling will be held to elect 48 senators — 12 each from KP and Balochistan, 11 each from Punjab and Sindh and two from Islamabad. The polling will be held to elect seven members on general seats, two women and two technocrats in the four provinces. Besides this, the election on one minority seat each in KP and Balochistan will also be conducted.
The ECP has asked political parties to issue tickets to candidates which should be attached with nomination papers.
When the MPAs will elect senators from respective provinces, members of the National Assembly will be voting to elect a senator on general seat and the other on a woman seat from Islamabad.
The term of a senator is six years, but 50 per cent of the total number retires after every three years and elections are held for new senators. Elections to fill the seats allocated for each province are held in accordance with the “system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote”.
The ECP has issued the notification five days after the government promulgated an ordinance to amend the Election Act, 2017, for an “open and identifiable ballot” in Senate elections without waiting for the Supreme Court verdict on the reference which it had sent to the Supreme Court in December last year on the same subject.
The opposition, as well as lawyers’ fraternity, have rejected the controversial move, saying it was an attempt not only to dictate the judiciary but also to undermine the Constitution and the parliament.
The ECP had also opposed the idea of open vote for Senate elections in the Supreme Court.
Responding to the criticism, the government stated that it had promulgated the ordinance believing that it might not be able to do so after announcement of the election schedule by the ECP.
Immediately after the announcement of the election schedule by the ECP, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) asked those aspiring for a party ticket to send their applications by Thursday midnight. Earlier, the PML-N had set Feb 15 deadline for receiving the applications with Rs50,000 bank draft. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) invited applications with Rs100,000 bank draft from ticket aspirants by Feb 9.
Interestingly, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has not formally invited applications from those aspiring for party tickets and the candidates are being finalised solely on the “recommendations” of the 11-member parliamentary board, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The term-wise data of senators shows that of the 52 members retiring from the present 103-member Senate in March, 33 belong to opposition parties and 19 from treasury benches.
The total strength of the Senate is 104, but former finance minister of PML-N, Mr Ishaq Dar, has not taken oath as a senator since he has been living in self-exile in London along with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The PML-N will be the biggest loser in terms of representation in the Senate as 57 per cent of its members — the largest number belonging to a single party — are set to retire this March after completing their six-year term. The data shows that of its 29 senators, 17 are set to retire. There are eight PPP members among the 52 retiring senators.
As far as the PTI is concerned, seven of its present 14 senators — mostly from KP — are set to retire. The most prominent among those retiring are federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz, Mohsin Aziz and Nauman Wazir.
The PTI, which got representation in the Senate for the first time in 2015, is not only set to improve its representation but also has the chance to become the single largest party in the house due to its numerical strength in the Punjab and KP assemblies. However, the PTI will not be in a position to gain control of the upper house and it will still have to rely on its allies and opposition parties even for carrying out simple legislation.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2021
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