• PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gillani elected chairman, PML-N’s Syedaal Khan Nasar becomes deputy chairman
• Former prime minister pledges to build bridges between treasury, opposition benches
• Ali Zafar, Azam Tarar disagree over definition of ‘duly constituted’ in Article 60 of Constitution
• Khawaja Asif says PTI ‘treading path of chaos’

ISLAMABAD: Amid raucous protest and walk-out by PTI members, PPP’s Senator Yousuf Raza Gillani and PML-N’s Senator Syedaal Khan Nasar were elected unopposed as the Senate chairman and deputy chairman, respectively, on Tuesday.

Mr Gillani, the joint candidate of the PML-N-led ruling coalition, now holds the distinction of being elected to three of the four top constitutional offices — the president, prime minister, National Assembly speaker and Senate chairman.

He served as the PM from March 25, 2008 to June 19, 2012 and as NA speaker from October 17, 1993 to February 16, 1997.

He is the second Senate chairman to have been elected unopposed, the first being Mian Raza Rabbani, also from PPP.

Shortly after announcing Mr Gillani’s victory, the presiding officer, Senator Ishaq Dar, took oath from the newly elected Senate chairman.

Mr Gillani then took his seat at the helm, announced his deputy’s victory, and administered the oath.

Senator Khan, the deputy chairman, was elected to the house from Balochistan on PML-N’s ticket and was nominated by his party colleague Azam Nazeer Tarar and PPP’s Sherry Rehman.

Slogans and protests

The announcement of Mr Gillani’s victory was followed by loud slogans of “long live Bhutto” raised by PPP activists sitting in visitors’ galleries.

However, their chants failed to drown the noise of PTI senators who protested over the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman in an “incomplete house”.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s 11 seats in Senate are vacant as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had postponed the election due to a controversy over the delay in administration of oath to KP assembly members elected on reserved seats.

PTI senators gathered in front of the chairman’s dais and raised the slogans of “mandate thieves” and “who will save Pakistan: Imran Khan, Imran Khan”.

Later, PTI staged a walk-out from the house.

Earlier in the day, 41 out of the 43 newly elected senators took oaths and signed the roll after their names were called one by one by the Senate secretary.

JUI-F’s Senator-elect Maulana Abdul Wasay and independent Senator-elect Faisal Vawda could not take oath as they were absent from the sitting.

‘Here to build bridges’

In remarks after taking the oath, Mr Gillani recalled the hanging of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

A visibly emotional Mr Gillani noted that the Supreme Court recently “acknowledged the judicial murder and admitted this historical injustice”.

“Currently, the crisis is deep. Pakistan faces an assault from those who seek to divide and polarise us. Those who seek to incite hatred. Those who seek to replace norms of civility with abuse and demagoguery,” he said.

“PPP has always rejected the politics of hate and preferred politics of reconciliation and of the welfare of the people.”

“I will be the chairman of the entire House, and my ambition is to build bridges, enable dialogue, and provide a space which allows for meaningful, robust discussion and disagreements within parliamentary norms and conventions and, most importantly, for the progress of the country,” the Senate chairman asserted.

PTI stages walk-out

At the outset of the sitting, PTI said that the election of Senate chairman and deputy chairman was unconstitutional because the 96-member house was incomplete since elections weren’t held on 11 seats from KP.

The party demanded the election be postponed till the house was completed and Senate elections were held in KP.

While speaking on a point of order, PTI’s parliamentary leader, Senator Ali Zafar, referred to Articles 59 and 60 of the Constitution and said the election of Senate chairman and deputy chairman couldn’t be held unless the house has been “duly constituted and all senators elected from four provinces don’t take oath”.

The election to the two positions without complete representation of a province would be tantamount to damaging the federation, said Mr Zafar.

When his pleas were ignored, Mr Zafar said, “PTI would not become part of this unconstitutional process”.

Another PTI Senator, Mohsin Aziz, also followed suit and said that the elections would “leave a scar on the people of KP” and urged the chair to adjourn the session.

He termed the electoral exercise in the absence of 11 senators as unconstitutional and advised the ruling coalition “to choose between the interest of the state and politics”.

Interpretation of ‘duly constituted’

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar rejected PTI’s assertions and read out Article 60 of the Constitution, which stated: “After the Senate has been duly constituted, it shall, at its first meeting and to the exclusion of any other business, elect from amongst its members a Chairman and a Deputy Chairman and, so often as the Office of Chairman or Deputy Chairman becomes vacant, the Senate shall elect another member as Chairman or, as the case may be, Deputy Chairman.”

He reasoned that the Senate came into existence after the Constitution of 1973 was framed.

He claimed that the word “duly constituted” in the first part of Article 60 was used for the first Senate election and in the context of “building the house” since it was a new body.

According to Mr Tarar, the second part of the article makes no mention of the word “duly constituted” and thus, this condition did not apply at the moment.

The minister also referred to Article 53 of the Constitution, which outlines the procedure for the election of National Assembly speaker and deputy speaker.

“The word duly constituted is not used here since the National Assembly already existed when the Constitution was framed.”

The law minister then blamed PTI’s government in KP for the postponement of Senate elections in the province.

The elections were not postponed due to some natural disaster like flood but the ECP “was forced” to do so because the KP Assembly speaker did not administer oaths to the members elected on reserved seats despite a court order, the law minister added.

Mr Tarar also cited Article 67, which stated that proceedings “shall not be invalid on the ground that some persons who were not entitled to do so sat, voted or otherwise took part in the proceedings”.

“The house is complete for constitutional purposes,” he said and requested the presiding officer to proceed further.

After the law minister’s speech, the presiding officer overruled the PTI objections and continued with the election process.

‘PTI treading on path of chaos’

Later, while talking to the media outside the Parliament House, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif accused PTI of “treading on the path of chaos” and inciting the politics of denial, violence and hatred, according to APP.

He criticised the party for boycotting the election process and said dialogue and reconciliation should take place between political parties to resolve issues instead of contestation.

“PTI wanted to take the path of confrontation and we will not be an accomplice in chaos and violence,” the minister said.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2024

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