The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday released the schedule for holding the Senate elections, announcing March 3 as polling day.
According to the notification, Feb 12 to Feb 13 is the time frame for candidates to file nomination papers with the returning officer. The names of the nominated candidates will be published on Feb 14, followed by the scrutiny process from Feb 15 to Feb 16.
Feb 17 and Feb 18 have been given as the dates for filing appeals against the acceptance or rejection of the nominations. The appeals will be disposed of by the tribunal on Feb 19 and Feb 20.
A updated list of candidates will be released on Feb 21, with Feb 22 as the last withdrawal deadline.
Senate elections Pakistan for March 3
A total of 52 senators in the 104-member house are due to retire on 11 March at the end of their six-year tenure. Four of the eight members from the former Federally Administrated Tribal Lands will not be represented (Fata). Since the seats serving Fata will not be filled due to the May 2018 merger of the tribal areas with KP, the strength of the Senate will decrease to 100.
Polls will also be held to elect 48 senators, 12 from KP and Balochistan each, 11 from Punjab and Sindh each and two from Islamabad. In order to elect seven candidates to the general seats, two women and two technocrats in the four provinces, voting will be held. In addition, there will also be an election for one minority seat each in the KP and Balochistan.
The opposition parties compose over 65% of the senators who are due to retire on March 11 after finishing their six-year constitutional term.
Controversy over open ballot
The news comes in the wake of a simmering debate over a new free vote presidential ordinance in the Senate elections. The Supreme Court is also currently hearing a presidential reference on the same issue.
The government’s bid to pass an ordinance was opposed by opposition parties as well as the lawyers’ community, arguing it was an effort not just to dictate the courts but also to overthrow the Constitution and parliament.
It is interesting to note that the text of the ordinance states that it has “come into force at once,” but an amendment to Section 122 of the 2017 Elections Act made it conditional on the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the presidential reference.
The declaration was promulgated after the government had tabled the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill in the National Assembly, despite evidently missing numbers in the parliament, to hold Senate polls by free vote without attempting to take the opposition on board.
Not only had the opposition parties opposed the change, but they lodged a loud noisy protest in the National Assembly when Speaker Asad Qaiser put the bill for a general debate before the chamber.
An ECP official told Dawn that the commission had rejected the notion of free voting for the Senate elections.
He said it was peculiar that the president’s seemingly puzzled government sent a reference to the Supreme Court, tabled a bill in the National Assembly to allow for free voting in the Senate, and then enforced the order.