On Sunday, leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman and former Senate Chairperson Raza Rabbani held a press conference regarding the Presidential Ordinance on Senate election rules.
Senator Sherry Rehman sharply criticised the amendment to the Elections Act (2017), which would allow the government to hold Senate polls through an open ballot, saying it had created a “constitutional crisis” with the move.
“They have created a constitutional crisis with their own hands,” Rehman said, adding that the PTI government had feared its MPAs (Member of Provincial Assembly) were not “in their hands” and would not vote for the PTI candidates.
“You are playing your cards in a way that can create an emergency situation in the country,” the PPP leader said and alleged that the promulgation of the ordinance amounted to an attack on the Constitution and the parliament. “They are ripping its (Constitution’s) page […] amendments in the Constitution is the function of the parliament, and no one can deny this,” she stressed.
Furthermore, she highlighted the fact that the Presidential reference pertaining to the matter was still pending in the Supreme Court and the amendment bill was still tabled in the National Assembly, making it the “property of the Parliament”. She added that the PPP rejected the move and would challenge it on every level, as the intentions of the governments were clearly visible.
The press conference by the PPP leaders comes a mere day after the President, on Saturday, signed an ordinance into effect. The Federal government promulgated a presidential ordinance to allow the senate elections to be held by a show of hands, amending the Election Act, 2017.
The text of the Presidential Order reads, “In the Elections Act, 2017 (XXXIII of 2017) in section 81, in sub-section (1), for the word “an”, the expression “subject to section 122, an” shall be substituted.
“In the said Act, in section 122, in sub-section (6), for the full stop at the end, a colon shall be substituted, and thereafter, the following two provisos shall be added:
“Provided that in case the Supreme Court of Pakistan gives an opinion in Reference No 1 of 2021 filed under Article 186 of the Constitution that elections for the members of Senate do not fall within the purview of Article 226 of the Constitution, the poll for elections for members of the Senate to be held in March 2021 and thereafter shall be conducted by the Commission through an open and identifiable ballot.
“Provided further that after the elections for members of Senate, if the head of the political party requests the Commission to show the ballot cast by any voting member of his party, the Commission shall show the same to the head of the political party or his nominee.”
The government had already tried to introduce this amendment in the National Assembly on Thursday, but rejecting the bill, the opposition staged a protest, and the house could not approve the bill. Given that the opposition has a majority in the Senate, a presidential order is the only way the government can amend the Senate polls rules before the elections.
Opposition leaders criticized the government for using the special powers of the President to legislate on national issues. Co-chairperson of the Pakistan people’s party Bilawal Bhutto criticised the government saying, that the government’s decision to promulgate an ordinance for holding Senate polls through open vote was a “political indication that it is worried”.
“The PDM in its meeting a couple of days ago discussed this issue, and we believe that open ballot reforms can only be part of a large comprehensive electoral reforms package” that can only be passed by parliament, he said.
Senator Rabbani condemned the use of the presidential power and said the government ought to wait for the SC’s advice on the presidential reference. “It feels you are trying to pressure the Supreme Court,” he criticised the government. “This Cabinet is playing with the country and the Constitution. [It] thinks the Constitution and laws are like plasticine which you can mould into any shape.”
“This kabeena (cabinet) is nabeena (blind) … it can’t read the Constitution,” he said, taking a jab at the cabinet. The PTI has produced a number of ordinances and notifications that had been declared void by the courts, including but not limited to; the ordinance to gain access to Sindh’s Islands, appointments to the election commission, and the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.