EDITORIAL: In a surprise move on Saturday, the government promulgated the Election (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, for open vote in the upcoming Senate election, drawing sharp criticism from the opposition parties as well as impartial observers. Notwithstanding the merit of the issue at hand, two things suggest it is not a good faith move. First, the ordinance was issued after the government had failed to have a constitutional amendment bill passed by the National Assembly. Second, the Supreme Court has yet to give its verdict on a presidential reference seeking its opinion on the subject under Article 186 of the Constitution.

Talking to journalists, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan explained that the government wanted to introduce it before February 11, when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was expected to announce the election schedule. More to the point, he said, the Election Act could not be amended once the schedule was announced. But then as per established norms, whilst a case is before a court of law no one is supposed to express any opinion on it, let alone take a conditional/presumptive measure. The ordinance, hence, can easily be seen as an attempt to hasten, if not influence, the proceedings before the honourable Court.

Given that the abominable practice of horse trading has gone on unabated in Senate elections, the government is right in advocating a procedural change. That though should have been done in a proper way. In fact, the two major political parties had expressed a similar intent in their 2006 oft-quoted Charter of Democracy, also calling for disqualifying provincial assemblies’ members who sell their votes. In so doing they betray the trust not only of their parties but also of the people who generally tend to vote for the parties rather than individuals. Notably, however, the present ordinance includes no such penalty for the rotten eggs. Questions are also rightly being raised as to the hurried manner in which the government is acting that only lends strength to a growing perception that the ruling party is hell bent on gaining majority through means fair or foul.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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