ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Saturday called for impeachment of President Dr Arif Alvi for allegedly violating the Constitution and trying to play with state institutions to undermine Senate polls and advance the political agenda of a political party.
Treasury and opposition senators, during the afternoon sitting of the requisitioned session, remained sharply divided on the presidential ordinance promulgated for open ballot during Senate polls.
The House discussed the opposition’s one-point agenda of the ‘unprecedented and controversial presidential ordinance promulgated with mala fide intent that seeks to change the Senate election procedure, which is an election under the Constitution of Pakistan, rendering the process of Senate elections controversial’.
The treasury lawmakers insisted that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government want to eliminate use of money for buying and selling of vote and conscience during elections. Ex-chairman Senate Raza Rabbani of the PPP while taking part in the discussion charged that the president knew that a constitutional amendment bill was already in the National Assembly.
Even then, he sent a reference to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He also knew that he had prorogued the two Houses of the parliament and the next day promulgated an ordinance on Senate polls. “Against the president, today we should have discussed a resolution of impeachment under Article 47 of the Constitution, who allowed undermining (khilwaar) of Senate polls and attempted to use the parliament as well as the Supreme Court of Pakistan, despite being part of the parliament. Such a president needs to be impeached,” he contended.
Rabbani, who is appearing in the Supreme Court as a lawyer with regard to the presidential reference, confined himself to the ordinance in the light of the motion and said that his objection is under Article 89 of the Constitution.
This, he pointed out, reflected mala fide intent of the government and added that a reference was made about the Committee of the Whole regarding identifiable ballot, but the 26th constitutional amendment was allowed by the cabinet in October to be moved in the assembly and this bill must have gone through a lengthy process, however, this bill did not carry even a single recommendation of the committee, rather it is about open ballot and show of hand.
He said the bill was referred to the NA committee and then it lay dormant since then and the committee did not deliberate on it and also the opposition was also not engaged and then the same cabinet advised the president to send the reference to the apex court.
Rabbani argued that the ordinance was meant for temporary legislation and hence Senate elections were made a joke as the SC had declared several times that such legislation was temporary. Maximum for 120 days, it could last and then die automatically, if not enacted and again it could be put aside through a resolution of disapproval. “If the Senate polls are held under the ordinance, it would have its repercussions and there will be a floodgate of litigations. Just to avert a revolt in the party, the constitutional institutions are being undermined,” he claimed.
Advisor on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan objected to certain parts of the speech of Rabbani and asked if it was not a no-trust with regard to the matter pending before the apex court and that the matter was sub-judice. It should not be influenced while having a parallel court and the Constitution should not be transgressed. Referring to Sub-article II of Article 89, he emphasised that the ordinance shall have effect as an act of parliament and then asked if a stranger had promulgated the ordinance and if it was a joke. “Article 50 defines the parliament, consisting of the president and its two Houses. If it is wrongly written, let us change it. If this presidential ordinance is bad, take out all the ordinances, martial law regulations and LFOs from the Constitution. People should know how these were protected, concealed and parked,” he maintained.
Then, he recalled when Bangladesh came into existence, a presidential reference was sent to the Supreme Court as to what to do as there was neither the assembly nor the budget, and the apex court ruled that the last year’s budget be extended for an year and then again the reference about the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was still pending before the apex court.
As for impeachment or no-confidence or all other means written in the Constitution, he contended they (the opposition) might exercise their legitimate right. They would be welcomed and it would be fought and like the impeachment twice of a US president could not succeed, it would also fail. He said whatever the decision comes from the Supreme Court, it would be before March 3 and would be implemented.
Leader of Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq, who had moved the motion in the House for discussion, charged that the government had resorted to so many actions while the matter was pending before the apex court but so much confusion had been created about Senate polls. The opposition supported the position taken by the Election Commission that the voting should be through secret ballot, as per the Constitution and that through an ordinance, the Constitution could not be amended.
He contended that with little time left in the elections, the exercise should be through secret ballot and after that if the government wants to carry out reforms, it could hold consultations thereon with the opposition to evolve consensus.
Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem said that through ordinance, the constitution was not being amended and that the query was regarding the Elections Act 2017 seeking ultimate opinion. The government approached the SC in view of diverse opinions. Citing the Committee of the Whole report on the subject, which was brought in the Senate in May 2016, he explained that one of the recommendations for bringing transparency was writing the name of a lawmaker on the ballot paper so that it should be identifiable and if and when a party head wanted to verify whether or not he or she had complied with the party line and if he or she violated it, then there was also mention of de-seating, invoking the defection clause. He said the Senate was meant to give proportional representation to parties. He continued that the element of money and other offers would kill this spirit and the members would go for petty interests. He wanted to know while the two major parties also wanted transparency and had signed the CoD, but during their ten years of rule, they did nothing to bring transparency in Senate polls. These two parties, he alleged had a policy to follow but their public posturing was altogether different and asked them to be part of the effort instead of following double standards.
Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Shibli Faraz said the opposition should have supported open Senate elections. “We have to end the politics of buying and selling in Senate elections. As the matter has both legal and moral aspects to it, questions have been raised in the past on Senate polls and now it is time to do away with this trend,” he said. He called for restoring the sanctity of the House by bringing transparency in the process, which paves the way for candidates to become its member. He said the poll process should not be made controversial anymore and pointed out that both the main parties had governments for 10 years but could not hold transparent elections and did nothing for this purpose.
Shibli said Prime Minister Imran Khan had been saying that the menace of corruption had done the most damage to the country and he had the resolve to eradicate it. “It is an opportunity for the opposition to review its past sins,” he remarked.
JI’s Mushtaq Ahmad backed the call for the president’s impeachment and said he had transgressed his powers by waiting for the two Houses to be prorogued to promulgate the ordinance. He said ordinances were not a popular practice and in less than ten countries, powers were given for such a step.
State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan asked why the PPP was unable to fulfil the wish of its leader Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif also could not realise the CoD in toto. "It is the prime minister's resolve to bring transparency and do away with the role of money in politics," he said.
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