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ISLAMABAD: Leader of the House in Senate Dr Shahzad Waseem on Thursday urged the opposition senators to join hands with treasury members to legislate on ensuring open ballot system in Senate elections to end the culture of 'bidding and sale/purchase' in the elections of the Upper House of the Parliament.

"Isn't it a reality that legislative houses are treated as markets when Senate elections take place? Isn't it a reality that bids/rates are offered to secure seats in Senate?" he said while speaking at the Senate session presided over by Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani.

"This sale/purchase takes place-like horses are sold. The horse-trading remains at peak, highest bids are offered and this filthy practice continues till the culmination of electoral process in Senate. Then all this foul play is justified as the 'beauty of democracy.' This detestable trade of conscience takes place in the name of democracy," he said, responding to the speech of former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani from PPP. Rabbani criticised federal government for introducing 26th Amendment in National Assembly 'without taking Senate into confidence' and for 'launching vilification campaign against Senate.'

Waseem, the Leader of the House, said "We saw during no-confidence motion (against chairman Senate)-the loyalties of 14 senators were changed and no one knew how, why and who were those 14. Before that our 20 members in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly changed loyalties in Senate elections and Imran Khan made an example out of them. I ask opposition; don't you want all this to stop?"

PPP Parliamentary Leader in Senate Sherry Rehman supported transparency in Senate elections. "Whether anybody agrees or not, there is no second opinion that transparency is vital. Everyone wants to stop horse-trading in Senate elections. But this (26th Constitutional Amendment) is not a small affair. It is a very big development. Senate should have been taken into confidence before such a crucial measure. Consensus is required for legislating on such crucial matters. There is a methodology to do everything. On one hand, you (government) took this issue to Supreme Court, and, on the other hand, you brought a bill in National Assembly. This is confusing approach. Respecting the ballot and changing the secrecy enshrined in the constitution are two different matters. They need to be done with clarity, consensus and openness, not just before an election because government is not confident of its members. Any sudden and unilateral change in the system would further complicate the electoral system of single transferable votes, so why take it to court on the one hand and on the other bring a bill without the requisite numbers for a constitutional amendment? Everyone wants to put an end to horse-trading, as it's of no use to anyone, but why bring bills about the Senate without taking the Senate's own views," she said.

Waseem responded, "A wrong thing can never be defended. If you believe that government is doing this because we are not confident of our MPAs, then you will see the result in Senate elections. We took this matter to Supreme Court because courts interpret constitution. And we brought it in Parliament for legislation. Governments are in position to take advantage of secret ballot and they took this advantage in the past. But, in larger interest of transparency, Imran Khan decided to go for open ballot so that those people who are elected in this esteemed House should come with pride and honour. We have to break this vicious circle. The governments come and go but this House would be there no matter who is in power. Let's do something to uphold the dignity of this House."

Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif from Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) said, "Opposition's objection over our efforts to ensure open ballot in Senate elections is criticism for the sake of criticism. How many bills were passed by previous governments by taking opposition into confidence?"

Faisal Javed Khan from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said "Public interest legislation is always blocked by opposition. Don't they want bribery and horse-trading to end in Senate polls?"

Meanwhile, Senate unanimously passed Senate Secretariat Service (Amendment) Bill 2021 jointly moved by Leader of the House Shahzad Waseem and Leader of the Opposition in Senate Raja Muhammad Zafar-ul-Haq. The bill deals with regulating the appointments in Senate Secretariat.

The Senate sitting was adjourned due to the lack of quorum. The 306th Senate session has been prorogued.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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