Thursday December 07, 2023

Direct voting

February 23, 2018

Pakistan is one of those democratic countries where a bicameral parliamentary system has been adopted. A bicameral legislature empowers legislators to run the business of parliament in two separate houses.

The Senate is the upper house of parliament. The duration of a senator’s term is six years and elections on half of its seats are held after every three years. Unlike the National Assembly, or the lower house, senators are not elected publicly through direct vote. The upper house is supposed to keep an eye on the lower house but picking and choosing non-political candidates for the Senate has brought a bad name to politicians. As has been observed, other than a few sincere senators, most are interested in maintaining personal relationships with the political leadership rather than with the public.

The Senate enjoys many exclusive powers not granted to the National Assembly – such as the power of granting parliamentary bills the status of a law. All legislation that the National Assembly passes has to be approved in the same form by the Senate as well. The chairman of the Senate also has the power to serve as the acting-president of the country.

Ever since the schedule for Senate elections has been announced, various rumour factories have been activated to sabotage the election process. Some such rumours include dissolving provincial assemblies to cause a delay in Senate elections, and a political party’s announcement that it would elect senators from a region where it does not have the numerical majority in assembly. Regrettably, differences over Senate tickets among the leadership of a prominent political party also resulted in the party getting nothing in return. In my view, selling and purchasing of Senate tickets like they are some commodity, and allegations of horse trading, have not only offended people but also made Senate elections the talk of the town.

After thoroughly reviewing the political structure of countries that have bicameral democratic systems, it can be found that the primary reason to form an upper house is to represent all units of the federation. It is a common perception that the root cause of East Pakistan’s separation was the unequal representation of provinces in parliament. This was why after the 1971 tragedy, the institution of Senate was established to ensure equal representation of all the federating units.

Britain is considered the mother of democracy and its upper house, also called the House of Lords, is dominated by society’s elite. Many a time, cash-for-vote allegations also echoed in the upper house (Rajya Sabha) elections of the world’s largest democracy, India. After the establishment of the federal government, the US also realised that its Senate had transformed into a millionaire’s club whose primary focus was securing their own economic interests. Thus, the 17th amendment was introduced in the constitution in 1913 so that people could directly elect senators. Today with the power of vote, the Americans send their true representatives to the Senate.

Like our country, there is also a multi-party system in place in Philippines where multiple political parties with diverse backgrounds contest the national elections. Despite this fact, the Senate of Philippines is modelled on the US Senate and people are allowed to elect senators through direct votes. As far as the political situation in Pakistan is concerned, policies based on nepotism, personal liking and disliking and violation of merit have brought negative results in every sphere of our lives. It is quite understandable that a senator who secures a ticket due to his personal contacts with the top political leadership of is not interested in connecting with the public.

We must understand that politics is all about serving the people and humanity. There is a dire need to introduce the direct voting system for Senate elections in Pakistan. In this regard, there should be at least 23 Senate seats from each province for which the people of the respective province can cast votes. Another option could be adopting the popular vote system where senators seek votes from the province they want to represent in the upper house. It is also suggested to make it a prerequisite for Senate candidates to contest at least one general election, either of the national assembly or local bodies, in their political career.

During my discussions with the country’s top political leadership, I have always maintained that the presence of non-political elements can never be in the interest of parliament, and only genuine parliamentarians who have roots in their communities can strengthen parliament through their active participation. The reserved seats for women and non-Muslims must also be eliminated.

Anyhow, it is necessary to ensure that only genuine politicians who have fought a genuine political struggle will succeed in the upcoming Senate elections. Members of the National Assembly also need to prove through their actions that they will cast votes on the basis of principles and conscience.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani