ECP to give Senate polls schedule today amid voting controversy

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is set to announce on Thursday (today) the schedule for holding Senate elections in the first week of next month. — Photo courtesy Radio Pak/File

ISLAMABAD: Amid a simmering controversy over the ordinance on open voting, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is set to announce on Thursday (today) the schedule for holding Senate elections in the first week of next month — with March 3 as the most probable polling date, informed sources told Dawn on Wednesday.

A total of 52 senators in the house of 104 are set to retire on March 11 on completion of their six-year term. They will also include four of the eight senators from the erstwhile Federally Adminis­tered Tribal Areas (Fata). As the seats representing Fata will not be filled due to merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May 2018, the Senate strength will shrink to 100.

Therefore, polling will be held to elect 48 senators — 12 each from KP and Balochistan, 11 each from Punjab and Sindh and two from Islamabad. Polling will be held to elect seven members on general seats, two women and two technocrats in the four provinces. Besides, the election on one minority seat each in KP and Balochistan will also be conducted.

Over 65 per cent of the senators who are set to retire on March 11 after completing their six-year constitutio­nal term belong to the opposition parties.

While the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf senators may double in numbers after the electoral exercise to reach 28 from existing 14, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is likely to be the biggest loser in terms of representation in the Senate as 17 of its 29 senators will retire next month and the party would be able to retain just five, taking the total strength to 17.

The Pakistan Peoples Party’s strength in the house will slightly come down from 21 to 19. Among the allies of the ruling party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement will be the only loser, with its party’s strength slipping down from five to three, while another ally, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), will emerge stronger, with the number of its senators growing from 10 to 13.

Voting process

However, the Election Commission of Pakistan has yet to confirm if there is any change in the mode of voting as the president recently promulgated an ordinance to amend the Constitution for an open vote in the Senate elections without waiting for the Supreme Court decision on the reference he had sent on the same subject. The opposition parties as well as lawyers fraternity have rejected the controversial move, saying it was an attempt not only to dictate the judiciary but also to undermine the Constitution and parliament.

Speaking to Dawn, an ECP official said the commission had opposed the idea of open voting for the Senate elections. He said it was strange that the apparently confused government throu­­gh the president sent a reference to the Supreme Court, tabled a bill in the National Assembly to provide for open voting in the Senate, and then got the ordinance promulgated. He said the ordinance to amend the Consti­tu­tion was promulgated after the ECP had announced it would issue the Sena­­te election schedule on February 11.

He agreed that it was not in the fitness of things to amend the Constitu­tion through an ordinance for the government that did not even enjoy a two-thirds majority in parliament required for such amendment, as it would make a major change through a short-lived instrument that expires in 120 days.