ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani has convened a session of the upper house of parliament on Saturday morning (Feb 20) on the requisition of the opposition on a one-point agenda to discuss the controversial presidential ordinance promulgated by the government on Feb 6, seeking open Senate vote.
The session has been called at a time when a presidential reference on the same subject is still being heard by the Supreme Court and the Senate elections are merely two weeks away.
The opposition parties had submitted the requisition notice to the Senate Secretariat on Feb 8, two days after the government had promulgated the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 amending the Elections Act 2017 for the use of an “open and identifiable ballot” in the upcoming and future Senate elections. The government had got federal cabinet’s approval of its move through a circulation.
Opposition to take up price hike, other issues in NA session tomorrow
Through the one-point agenda, the opposition members said they wanted to have a debate on “the unprecedented and controversial presidential ordinance promulgated with mala fide intent that seeks to change the Senate election procedure, which is an election under the Constitution rendering the process of Senate election controversial”.
The opposition parties have already rejected the ordinance, terming it “illegal and unconstitutional and an attempt to influence the court”.
Also, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Senator Sirajul Haq has submitted a resolution seeking disapproval of the ordinance.
Interestingly, the text of the one-page ordinance says it has “come into force at once”, but an amendment to Section 122 of the Elections Act 2017 has made it conditional with the final decision of the Supreme Court on the presidential reference.
It says: “Provided that in case the Supreme Court of Pakistan gives an opinion in Reference No. 1 of 2021 filed under Article 186 of the Constitution, that elections for the members of Senate do not fall within the purview of Article 226 of the Constitution, the poll for elections for members of the Senate to be held in March 2021 and thereafter shall be conducted by the Commission (Election Commission of Pakistan) through open and identifiable ballot.
“Provided further that after the elections for members of Senate, if the head of a political party requests the Commission to show the ballot cast by any voting member of his party, the Commission shall show the same to the head of the political party or his nominee.”
The government later justified its action, explaining that it had promulgated the ordinance without waiting for the court decision, as it had to do it before the announcement of the Senate elections schedule by the ECP on Feb 11.
Earlier this month, the government, despite clearly lacking numbers in parliament, had tabled the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill in the National Assembly for the same purpose and without making any effort to take the opposition on board. The opposition parties not only rejected the move but also lodged a strong noisy protest on the floor of the National Assembly when Speaker Asad Qaiser put the bill before the house for a general discussion.
During the last sitting on Feb 4, the National Assembly witnessed a scuffle between the treasury and opposition members when Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri ran the house one-sidedly and gave the floor to three federal ministers one after the other, providing them full opportunity to speak on the bill and bash the opposition parties.
Taking notice of the unprecedented hooliganism, the speaker decided to issue letters to three members seeking an explanation over the incident. The letters are being sent to Syed Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Chaudhry Hamid Hameed of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Attaullah of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.
The opposition alleges that the government is doing all this because it has no control over and trust in its lawmakers and fears that they may not vote for the candidates backed by the ruling alliance. At present, the opposition is in majority in the Senate and the government has become desperate, since many times a legislation passed by the National Assembly had been rejected by the Senate.
Friday session agenda
Speaker Qaiser has already convened a session of the National Assembly on Friday morning (tomorrow) also on the opposition’s requisition, but to discuss other issues, including price hike.
The opposition had submitted the requisition notice carrying signatures of as many as 92 members just hours after the session had been prorogued by Deputy Speaker Suri earlier this month.
The agenda attached to the requisition notice shows that the opposition members want to have a discussion on “alarming increase in inflation, especially food inflation” and recent increase in the prices of petrol, gas and electricity”.
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2021