On Saturday, 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 Senate and National Assembly are not in session, and the president is satisfied that “circumstances exist” which render the ordinance necessary to take immediate action, stated a Tweet by the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz.
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 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.
For this round of Senate elections, 52 senators will be retiring; however, the polls would only elect 48 new senators, as 4 seats of FATA would not have candidates contesting the senate polls due to the region’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.