Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday warmed up to a political foe’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that would replace secret balloting with a show of hands in the Senate elections amid warnings from opposition leaders that any such switch could not be made in time for the March 5 polls.
During a meeting of the federal cabinet the prime minister signalled his approval for such a constitutional amendment – which Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf says is necessary to eliminate vote-buying and discourage political horse-trading.
The decision came after the prime minister showed his reservations over the purported use of money and influence in the upcoming Senate elections.
According to a statement, PM Nawaz wants a panel of legal experts to first examine the legal position for introducing a constitutional amendment. The panel is required to share its recommendations with the prime minister in the next 24 hours.
Two committees comprising Pervaiz Rashid, Khawaja Saad Rafique and Anusha Rahman were formed to coordinate with other mainstream political parties while the second committee includes Ahsan Iqbal, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Governor Mehtab Abbasi and Barrister Zafarullah.
Several leaders of opposition parties denounced the proposed change, saying it has come a bit too late. “It would not be appropriate to bring a constitutional amendment at a time when the election process has already started,” said Awami National Party (ANP) leader Haji Muhammad Adeel. “It seems the decision was taken after the ruling party realised that its people were out of control.”
At the same time, the ANP leader blamed political parties for the current state of affairs, alluding to the final award of party tickets in which relatively new party representatives were chosen over stalwarts.
According to Haji Adeel, the Senate elections should be open instead of via secret ballot.
Senator Farhatullah Babar of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also cast doubts on whether the changes could be made in time. “Government must come out clean on it [decision of constitutional amendment] and explain how it can implement it when elections are just 10 days away,” he said. “Either the government is naïve or is resorting to political gimmickry.”
According to him, the move was the government’s response to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). “It seems it is a political response to Imran Khan’s demand,” he said.
Answering a question, Babar also said, “We [the PPP] agree that horse-trading should stop.”
On Sunday, PTI chief Imran Khan had renewed his demand for open balloting during the upcoming Senate elections and appealed to all political parties to back his demand.
PTI Information Secretary Dr Shireen Mazari was quick to claim credit for the ruling party’s acceptance of its demand. “It is because of PTI’s demand that the government is now considering a constitutional amendment,” she said.
Yet the PTI leader questioned the sincerity of the government. “The amendment should be passed before the Senate elections and in case the government fails to do so … the government’s announcement should be taken as a political stunt,” she added.
Wasay Jalil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said his party would support the move for transparency of the system. Talking to The Express Tribune, he said Khawaja Saad Rafiq had contacted Babar Ghauri and the government side will meet Dr Farooq Sattar for discussion over the proposal.
Under Article 226 of the Constitution, all elections other than those of the prime minister and the chief minister shall be held by secret ballot.
The federal cabinet gave approval for the Pak-China economic corridor. “The cabinet also gave its ex-post facto approval to the agreement on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project cooperation between the Government of People’s Republic of China and the Government of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” said the statement.
The water and power secretary and petroleum and natural resources secretary gave a detailed presentation to the federal cabinet on energy related issues. The cabinet was informed that LNG based 3,600MW power generation projects would be completed by December 2017.
Upon hearing this PM Nawaz said that action would be taken against all those responsible for any delay in the energy projects as the whole nation is suffering due to energy shortages. He directed that the proposed projects should be completed by February 2017.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2015.