Divided: Legislators take up issue of Senate elections (The Express Tribune (Pakistan))

Lawmakers opened a debate on Friday on the mode of elections for members of upper house of parliament.

Senate chairman Raza Rabbani said that the initiative was taken in the House Business Committee on the basis that electoral reforms were being discussed, including the Senate electoral reforms.

“It is better that the Senate itself brings the issue under discussion and formulate its recommendations regarding elections instead of some other house formulating them,” he explained.

Rabbani underlined two schools of thought, saying that “there is no doubt that elections should be transparent, however, there is no transparency in the present system whereas it should be.”

Alternately, referring to direct elections, he said, that there was a reason that single transferable, proportional election was introduced in the 1973 Constitution. “The Senate represents federating units and has provincial assemblies in its constituency and political spectrum should be reflected so that all political thoughts within the province can find expression at the federal level so that the sentiment of isolation can be diminished”.

Senator Farhatullah Babar said that in proportional representation, the smallest voices in the provinces could be heard not by direct election but by a single transferable vote and representation system.

He maintained that horse-trading has been a part of elections in the Senate before, elaborating on how votes had been sold and how every provincial assembly held Senate elections, the electoral college of Senate remained limited and senators have been elected.

“The Senate has great internal strengths and if horse-trading and money-bag transferring are our weaknesses, let us admit it. Once we admit it, and we will have great internal strengths, you can surely address weakness with hope and frankness,” he said, adding that the sanctity of elections is that it is kept secret.

Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is also a member of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, said that many MNAs were giving recommendations regarding the Senate elections. “I’m glad that the Senate itself, being the principle stakeholder, should take the lead on this issue,” he said.

Citing examples of America and the Philippines where direct elections are held in the Senate, he said the Senate in these countries were millionaire clubs. “Direct elections should be firmly rejected or else it will become a Richie Rich club and you will block off the people of eminence who can play a role in national politics,” he said.

Moreover, Senator Hasil Bizenjo said there was no other way it could be done except through direct elections.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2015.

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