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Strange dichotomy in Senate rules

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July 18, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate offer widely divergent numbers of votes needed for election and ouster of the chairman and his deputy.

Under Rule 9(6), a contestant vying for the office of the chairman, who faces a solitary challenger, will be declared elected if he secures more votes than his rival, and will not have to clinch majority of the total membership of the Senate. This means that he will need to bag the ballots of majority of members present and voting. On the other hand, according to Rule 12(12), the chairman or his deputy shall stand removed from his office on the [no-confidence] resolution being passed by a majority of the total membership of the Senate.

So, the chairman’s ouster has been made difficult in terms of number of votes required to remove him whereas his election is easier as even less ballots are sufficient for his success. Elaborating the chairman’s election, Rule 9(6) says where, after withdrawals, if any, there remain only two candidates for election, a ballot shall be held between them and the candidate who secures more votes than the other shall be declared to have been elected. If both the candidates secure an equal number of votes, a fresh ballot shall be held between them until one of them secures more votes than the other, and the candidate securing more votes shall be declared to have been elected.

The logic behind requiring lesser votes to elect the chairman and many more to drive him out of office is incomprehensible. However, if all the 104 senators (one seat being vacant) prefer attendance during the chairman’s election, the winner will have to get votes of the majority of the total membership.

Prominent lawyer Barrister Omar Sajjad explained to The News that under Article 53(7)(c) of the Constitution, the office of the chairman becomes vacant if he is removed by a resolution, which is passed by the votes of the majority of the total membership of the Senate. The only majority can eject the chairman or his deputy, he said. On the contrary, he said, there is no constitutional provision about the votes required for the election of a senator as chairman.

In the present scenario, the opposition parties will have to mobilise majority, at least 53 senators, to overthrow Sadiq Sanjrani while the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led coalition will have to muster a similar number to get rid of Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwalla. Similarly, only majority of the senators present and voting on the polling day will be sufficient to elect new chairman as well as deputy chairman.

The chairman or his deputy are disallowed to preside over the processes relating to the no-trust motions against them. As a result, the opposition parties’ move has incapacitated Sanjrani to chair the exercise. In this case, Mandviwalla was to chair the proceedings. But the ruling alliance’s no-confidence resolution against him has hindered him from doing so.

Omar Sajjad said the presiding officer (PO) has an important role to play in accepting or rejecting cast ballots that are affected or tainted in any manner, even slightly. He recalled that back in the late nineties 18 votes cast in favour of his father, Wasim Sajjad, for the fourth consecutive term as the chairman were rejected by the PO (Ajmal Khattak). But following his election as chairman, Wasim Sajjad had presided over the election of the deputy chairman and Hamayun Marri of his panel had secured all these 18 votes. President Dr Arif Alvi will nominate a senator to act as the PO in the present case.

The lawyer also mentioned Rule 263 which says whenever any inconsistency or difficulty arises in the application of the rules, any member may, with the consent of the chairman, move that any rule may be suspended in its application to a particular motion before the Senate, and if the motion is carried the rule in question shall stand so suspended. An official said that the Senate secretariat plans to hold voting on the two no-trust resolutions on the same day. These are the first-ever no-confidence motions against the Senate chief and deputy chairman.

Meanwhile, the Senate Secretariat has gone ahead with processing the opposition’s no-trust resolution at a snail’s pace. First, it raised objections to the opposition’s motion claiming that it has filed two requisition requests to call the session. After a few days, the secretariat became satisfied with the reply given by the opposition, which dubbed the move as a delaying tactic. Under the rules, a requisitioned session has to be called within 14 days from the date of receipt of such request, which was submitted on July 9.

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