The Senate of Pakistan, the upper house of the country’s bicameral legislature, is the prime body that represents federation and the spirit of the constitution. The main purpose for the creation of the Senate of Pakistan was to give equal representation to all the federating units since the membership of the National Assembly was based on the population of each province. The role of the Senate is to promote national cohesion and harmony and to alleviate fears of the smaller provinces regarding domination by any one province because of its majority, in the National Assembly.
Did You Know?
The word senate has been derived from the Latin “senex,” which means “old man”; the word thus means “the assembly of elders”. This is the institution that is present in almost all democracies of the world. Inspired by the British House of Lords, it was first formed by US Lawmakers in 1789 and named after the Roman Senate which was the premier political institution of the Roman Republic.
Since Pakistan’s Constitutions of 1956 and 1962 provided for a unicameral legislature, the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 Constitution, which was passed on 12th April and promulgated on 14th August 1973, provided for a parliamentary form of Government with a bicameral legislature, consisting of the National Assembly and the Senate.
Originally the membership of the Senate was 45. It was raised to 63 in 1977 and to 87 in 1985. The membership of the Senate was again raised from 87 to 100 in 2002. However, after the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, which became a part of the constitution after it received the Presidential assent on April 19, 2010, it now consists of “one-hundred and four members”. A breakup of the seats is as under:
Qualification of a Senator
A person seeking election to the Senate must be a citizen of Pakistan. He should be not less than 30 years of age and must be enrolled as a voter in any area in a Province or, as the case may be, the Federal Capital or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, from where he seeks membership.
Term of the Senate
Unlike the National Assembly, the Senate cannot be dissolved. However, the term of senate members is 6 years. One half of its members retire every three years. This means that after every three years, senate elections are held for its 52 members, not for total 104 members. This implies that the party which previously had majority in the National Assembly can still remain in majority in the senate provided it manages to capture any government of the provincial assembly or significant amount of seats in any provincial assembly, just like it happened in senate elections 2015 whereby PPP has maintained its majority in the Senate.
The law giving powers to the senate is same as that of the National Assembly. Unless both the Houses pass a Bill and it received President’s assent, it cannot become a law except in the case of a money bill which is the sole prerogative of the National Assembly. However, the Senate may make recommendations on a Money Bill to the National Assembly within seven days.
Elections & Electoral College
Senators in Pakistan are not elected through direct voting, so the Senate election could not be considered as the public support to any party. Nevertheless, the Senate is the key legislative forum in the Pakistani parliamentary system.
The Electoral College of Senate — other than seats from FATA and the Federal Capital Territory — is the provincial assemblies. Each provincial assembly elects 7 members for general seats of senate every three years in the following way:
- In Sindh Assembly, a Senator needs 24 votes of members to get elected on general seat.
- The total number of members in Punjab Assembly is 371, meaning 53 provincial members have to elect one Senator on general seat.
- In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for the total number of 7 general Senate seats, 17 votes will be required in order to win each general seat.
- For each of the 7 general Senate seats available in Balochistan Assembly, nine votes will be needed from the members to get elected.
- The Electoral College for senators from FATA consists of the National Assembly members elected from that region which are in total 11.
- The Electoral College for senators from Federal Capital Territory is also the National Assembly.
For electoral success on the other four seats — two reserved for women and two for technocrats/Ulema respectively — 50 percent of the members of each provincial assembly are needed to get elected i.e. for Punjab Assembly their electoral college would be formed of 185 instead of 371 MPAs and for Sindh Assembly it would consist of 84 MPAs instead of 168. For the one seat available for minorities from each province, a simple majority has to be obtained.
According to Article 59(2) of the constitution of Pakistan:
“Election to fill seats in the Senate allocated to each Province shall be held in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote”.
What is proportional representation?
The system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote is a complex albeit interesting one. According to this system, a candidate must receive enough votes to reach or exceed an electoral quota (one which is normally used is called droop quota and is calculated on the basis of number of valid votes and the number of seats in the constituency).
According to this system, the candidates are numbered on the ballot paper and the voters are required not to choose a single candidate but to mention their preferences in order of number e.g. 1, 2, 3 etc. After voting, the returning officer orders the ballot papers in terms of number one (marked in order of preference) votes marked against every candidate. Those who reach or exceed minimum quota are deemed elected. Now, if a candidate gets surplus votes than the required minimum quota, the surplus votes are converted to next candidate who has got next preference indicated in each ballot paper.
Like always, the allegations of rigging and horse trading have been a feature of the 2015 Senate elections. The primary reason behind it is the Electoral College in Balochistan and KPK that is so small that it becomes very easy for the candidates to bribe the MPAs. To curb this menace, the 22nd amendment was proposed by the government which suggested open balloting instead of secret in the Senate elections but the proposal could not see the light of the day.
The solution lies not in just changing the method of casting votes but in changing the overall election process. Instead of casting indirect votes, senators should be elected directly through popular vote. In USA, the method of elections was elected like that of ours before 1870. But, after a period of almost 125 years since the inception of their senate, they decided to change the method and converted it to mass suffrage. Pakistan should also emulate the procedure and methodology adopted by the United States.