Pakistan Reader# 154, 23 February 2021
There are three questions: Why is the PTI government not passing the bill in the parliament? Why is Imran Khan and his government in such a hurry? What is the Opposition's problem?Sneha M
With Senate elections just being weeks ahead, the government and the opposition are in a tussle of contrasting opinions. Imran Khan’s government had tabled the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill in the Parliament to hold Senate Election through an open ballot method, in contrast to the existing secret ballot method. When presented in the parliament, the bill witnessed strong dissent from the opposition party through shouts, slogans, and scuffles. He then filed a presidential reference in the Supreme court of Pakistan, seeking its opinion. Amidst this, the government further promulgated an ordinance, which interestingly states, “the bill comes into practice at once.” Now the question is, why is the PTI government in such a hurry? Is it to obliterate a longstanding ill of the Pakistani Democracy or a mere political game?
A recent report on the Democracy Index of 2020 published by the Economic Intelligence Unit ranked Pakistan 105 out of 167 countries. Senate elections in Pakistan largely have been dominated by horse-trading of parliamentarians. The Election Commissioner of Pakistan himself admitted the fact that it is bizarre that “the confused government through the president sent a reference to the Supreme Court, introduced the bill in the National Assembly and then finally got the ordinance promulgated”. (Fahad Chaudhry, “ECP announces Senate Elections for 3 March”, Dawn, 11 February 2021).
Since the bill's introduction, the political environment in Pakistan is electric. The PTI government has defended the bill by asserting that their party is keen on ending the cycle of corruption and horse-trading in Senate elections mainly. On the other hand, the opposition has rejected the bill and has univocally decided to devise a plan to oppose the constitutional amendment. Ceaseless exchange of arguments between both parties are signs of political instability in the country.
A recent viral video of PTI lawmakers receiving bribes to vote in the 2018 elections has taken rounds in social media. The content and timing of the video tell us more than just a coincidence. It implies that one other substantial reason for PTI to press this bill is that the party itself lacks solidarity and loyalty within; by making it an open ballot, PTI can be sure of who is voting whom. According to the current PTI position, an analysis shows that it can emerge out as a single majority party in Senate Elections. Sensing this, the opposition has found a new gateway to challenge the current regime and bring it down to its knees.
Maleeha Lodhi writes, in the past, almost all major opposition parties of today were once vocal about the need to reform Senate Elections. Clearly, "The Charter of Democracy" signed by PML-N and PPP in 2006 states that "To prevent corruption and floor crossing all votes for the Senate and indirect seats will be by identifiable open ballot". (Maleeha Lodhi,
Dawn, "Politics of Expediency," 15 February 2021). Do political parties act according to transitory gains of the present situation or abide by their moral, political values? If it is the latter, then the opposition, which once pressed senate elections through an open ballot, is now against it, proving the former to be true. This series of episodes in the
country reduces the entire situation to a mere political game of the parties; wherein each of them is trying to secure power at the center.
There are three questions: Why is the PTI government not passing the bill in the parliament? Why is Imran Khan and his government in such a hurry? What is the Opposition's problem?
First, the senate election is just around the clock, and passing through the parliament implies that both the government and opposition need time to put it across, which they lack, as time is ticking. The opposition, which sits at the edge, would not allow the bill to pass so swiftly. Expected delay is bound to occur, and hence Imran Khan chose to pass the bill through a presidential reference.
Second, according to a careful calculation made by Dawn, PTI is set to emerge as a single majority party in the upcoming Senate elections (Amir Wasim, "PTI to emerge as the largest party in a hung Senate," Dawn, 1 February 2021). Keeping this in mind, the answer to the question becomes clear as PTI does not want to miss a chance to form a majority. Another reason could be the intra politics of his party itself. Understanding the precarious party loyalty within PTI might have pushed Imran Khan to act hurriedly.
Third, Opposition parties in the country are accused of protecting a corruption-friendly system and alleged open sale and purchasing of MPA's votes. In the past, PML-N and PPP have both subscribed to open ballot Senate elections; however, the slightest chance to challenge the current government is a burning need of the opposition. Having missed opportunities to shatter PTI, letting go of this opportunity means that the opposition will take many long years to break the PTI’s majority in Senate.
Overall, the only feasible way to eradicate corrupt politics was to table the bill way ahead of time, provide the opposition to discuss and debate, and finally reach a consensus, which could have been a win-win situation, rather than bulldozing the bill hastily. However, the Supreme Court of Justice 16 February 2021 has advised ECP to hold the upcoming elections lawfully, acting as a guard against rampant corruption in the Senate elections. Nevertheless, only time can determine the political dynamics of Pakistan.
About the author
Sneha M is enrolled with the NIAS certificate course on Contemporary Pakistan. She is also pursuing a Masters in International Studies, Political Science, History from CHRIST Bengaluru. Her research focus includes Gender and Social Issues in Pakistan.