In the National Assembly, the government has tabled a bill to change the voting process from secret to open balloting in the Senate elections, but the opposition has delayed voting on the bill in this session. On Wednesday, the government submitted the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill, which also aims to grant the freedom to contest elections to dual citizens.
The bill caused a sharp response from the opposition benches and the proceedings of the Assembly were marred by fracas, sloganeering and pandemonium on Wednesday and Thursday. In the past, Prime Minister Imran Khan has claimed that Senate elections should have an open vote in order to remove corruption from the process. In the no-confidence vote against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, one example of senators voting against their parties was seen. The debate, even though the opposition had a strong majority, was rejected.It is an open secret that upper house candidates have to pay large sums of money to buy votes from members of the regional legislatures that make up their college of electors.
It is the obligation of all political parties to bring in changes that will eradicate this vote buying trend in the Senate. The way the government has gone about doing this, though, is unfortunate. Parallel proposals have been introduced in both the Supreme Court and Parliament to modify the electoral system without making a meaningful attempt to create a consensus on this reform. The Supreme Court is hearing the lawsuit and also has a decision to be given. It is odd that the government has sought to get a vote in the National Assembly without waiting for the court to pronounce a verdict.Moreover, the government was well aware of the fact that it did not have the numbers to force through a constitutional amendment.
This is why this whole procedure seems to be aimed at generating political mileage by finding out that in the Senate electoral process, the opposition does not want to legislate on reform that, the government thinks, would eradicate corruption. The government has lost an opportunity to introduce policy into a detailed mechanism of consultation, dialogue and consensus by needlessly politicising the subject. The consequence is often frustrating if aesthetics take the place of genuine targets.
It would be prudent for the government to abandon needless urgency, engage the opposition in substantive dialogue on a thorough package of democratic amendments, including the Senate’s mode of voting, and forge a compromise that would favour the system as a whole. Before the next general election, the goal should be to legislate this substantive change so that all parties are deeply involved in it and to ensure that the reform package is not a product of political differences. They should take loopholes and choose the best path if the government and the opposition both want to change the electoral structure.