ISLAMABAD: It is a million dollar question whether the independent senators-elect who were backed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) can now join this political party, as the constitutional provision for the Senate is silent on it.
The complicated issue had been raised in the house by a PML-N lawmaker on Monday, who argued that the right was surely available to them and sought a ruling of the Senate chairman on it.
Senator retired Gen Abdul Qayyum said that the members of the lower house of parliament as well as the provincial legislatures were free to join a political party within a timeframe of three days after the notification declaring them returned candidates because they had to vote to elect prime minister and chief ministers, respectively. He said it appeared that no timeframe for joining a political party had been set for senators in the law and they could do it anytime.
Later talking to Dawn, Mr Qayyum said Article 51 of the Constitution defined the composition while Article 106 dealt with the composition of the provincial assemblies. He said both Articles described the procedure for election on reserved seats for women through proportionate representation system on the basis of general seats won by political parties and the priority lists submitted by them. He said provisos at the end of both the clauses read “Provided that for the purpose of the sub-clause, the total number of general seats won by a political party shall include the independent returned candidate or candidates who may duly join such political party within three days of the publication in the official gazette of the names of the returned candidates”.
He said the Constitution recognised the right of the lawmakers to join a political party after winning as independent candidates, but no timeframe had been set for the purpose. “How can a right available to the members of the national and provincial assemblies be denied to members of the parliament’s upper house?” he questioned.
A senior official of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), when contacted, endorsed the view saying that the members of the national and provincial assemblies get three days to join a political party as the number of reserved seats is to be determined on the basis of the total general seats won by them. But, he added, this was not the case with senators.
He said though the constitution had left it open for senators to join a political party any time, there was a clear provision in the rules and procedures for the conduct of business in the Senate.
He said Rules 15 (1) of the Senate read: “An independent member including a member from Fata, elected to the Senate, may exercise his option to join the treasury or, as the case may be, the opposition benches within seven days of making oath before the Senate and shall inform the Secretary in writing, who shall immediately notify the option so exercised by the member”.
Some senators also expressed their concern over delay in giving the right to vote to overseas Pakistanis and the huge gap of 12 million among male and female voters.
Senator Mohsin Aziz of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf moved a motion about non-issuance of CNICs to a large number of women which has resulted in non-registration of their names in the voters’ lists.
Mr Aziz said that the gap had grown in years from 10 million to 12 million. He said according to the population census results, the male and female population was almost equal and thus the gap was alarming.
Senator Sherry Rehman of Pakistan Peoples Party warned that if the issue of huge number of women who could not use their right to franchise was not resolved on a war footing, the country would not be able to overcome the mammoth task of gender mainstreaming.
Winding up the debate, Minister of State for Interior Tallal Chaudhry said that the government gave equal importance to all areas for registration of women, whether it is a backward area of Balochistan or the modern city of Islamabad.
He rejected the claims that the people of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata were facing any kind of discrimination as the number of registered women and men in these areas was much higher compared to that of Islamabad.
Federal law minister Mehmood Bashir Virk informed the Senate that in light of Supreme Court order software was being prepared to enable overseas Pakistanis to use their right to franchise.
However, the minister contended that there was need for extreme prudence and consideration with regards to the matter and that instead of getting entangled in a multi-faced issue, other issues, concerning the masses needed to be addressed.
Winding up a debate on a motion, moved by PTI Senator Mohammad Azam Swati, to discuss the steps taken so far by the government to grant the right to franchise to expatriate Pakistanis, he warned that any decision taken in haste could be disastrous. He pointed out that there was a threat of the entire system being hijacked. He said even the financial transactions made online were not safe and there were instances of accounts being hacked.