The ruling PTI on Wednesday tabled the 26th constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly that seeks open balloting in Senate elections and allowing dual nationals to contest parliamentary polls. That the ruling coalition lacks the numerical strength in parliament to amend the Constitution is no secret. If this is so then what is it that the government wants to achieve by something which is sure to end up as an exercise in futility?
In fact, the government has presented the mentioned amendment in an attempt to throw the opposition into a conundrum. While a ‘yes’ vote from the opposition would nip the illegal and immoral practice of horse-trading in Senate elections in the bud, it would come at a time when the government is finding it difficult to restrain its MNAs and MPAs from voting for opposition candidates. On the contrary, if the opposition says ‘no’ to the amendment, it will be like handing the government with a stick to beat an opposition that is not in favour of reforming the Senate election process, and wants horse-trading to continue. And, on whether to allow dual nationals to contest parliamentary elections or not, it would be a win-win for the PTI as either way, it would be counted among the party’s efforts towards involving the diaspora in the decision-making process, thereby serving to strengthen its vote bank abroad.
No one would disagree that horse-trading is a well-entrenched reality of electoral politics in our country. Our parliamentary system is rife with the politics of defections, floor crossings and forward blocs; and the buying and selling of votes has long been a major bane of our parliamentary system. That way an open, identifiable ballot would help rid the Senate elections of the sale and purchase of votes. However, it does have its flip side too. An open ballot would withdraw the freedom to take a principled position, independent of the party line, that a secret ballot allows to MNAs and MPAs. The secrecy of the ballot thus forms the cornerstone of democratic elections.
While an open ballot has both its pros and cons, and a truly democratic culture where the sanctity of vote is supreme is nowhere in sight, should we go for a directly-elected Senate?
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2021.