PPP Senator Sherry Rehman on Sunday sharply criticised the government’s promulgation of a presidential ordinance to make amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, to hold Senate polls through open ballot, saying it had created a “constitutional crisis” with the move.
Rehman, accompanied by PPP stalwart and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, was addressing a press conference in Karachi in response to the ordinance passed on Saturday.
The ordinance came into effect immediately, according to a clause in it, and extended to the whole of Pakistan. It said that with the Senate and National Assembly not in session, the president was satisfied that “circumstances exist” which rendered the ordinance necessary to take immediate action.
“They have created a constitutional crisis with their own hands,” Rehman said, adding that the sole reason for it was that the PTI government had feared its members and their votes were no longer “in their hands”.
“You are playing your cards in a way that can create an emergency situation in the country,” the PPP leader said and alleged that the promulgation of the ordinance amounted to an attack on the Constitution and the parliament. “They are ripping its (Constitution’s) page […] amendments in the Constitution is the function of the parliament and no one can deny this,” she stressed.
She questioned why the government had passed the ordinance when the presidential reference on the matter was still pending in the Supreme Court and the constitutional amendment bill was still in the National Assembly and thus the “property of the parliament”.
She said the intentions of the government were clear for all to see and the PPP would “reject them and will challenge them on every level”.
On Saturday, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had also criticised the government’s decision to promulgate the ordinance as a “political indication that it is worried”.
He had questioned the government’s move, stating that the matter was sub judice. “What is the point behind taking this step? Are you trying to put pressure on the apex court?” he had asked.
The PPP chairman maintained that as far as passing legislation and making constitutional amendments was concerned, it was the parliament’s job. He said the government’s current way of going about the whole situation was “undemocratic” and alleged that its intentions were to “rig the Senate elections once again in favour of a selected political party”.
‘This cabinet is blind’
Rabbani also denounced the ordinance on similar grounds and said the government should have waited for the SC’s advice on the presidential reference. “It feels you are trying to pressure the Supreme Court,” the PPP leader told the government.
Criticising the government’s handling of the process of the constitutional amendment bill, he said relevant stakeholders were not consulted and the government didn’t attempt to initiate dialogue or build consensus on the matter. Even “the Senate wasn’t taken into confidence” with regards to the bill’s implications and consequences despite the bill being about a reform in the Senate itself, Rabbani added.
The senator also lambasted what he saw as the “haphazard” handling of the bill by the cabinet and called it out for “having no single direction”.
“This Cabinet is playing with the country and the Constitution. [It] thinks the Constitution and laws are like plasticine which you can mould into any shape.
“This kabeena (cabinet ) is nabeena (blind) … it can’t read the Constitution,” he said.
Rabbani pointed out contradictions in the ordinance and wondered whether the government would conduct the Senate polls all over again if the ordinance was struck down and the Senate elections conducted according to it were declared “invalid”.
PTI to fully accept SC decision
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi while addressing a gathering earlier on Sunday reaffirmed the ruling PTI’s belief that the SC had the right to interpret the law and provide clarity on whether a constitutional amendment was required or not.
Qureshi said the apex court was currently hearing the case of the presidential reference and whatever decision it issued, “we will fully accept it.”
The minister once again asked the PPP and PML-N why they were “backtracking from the promises made to the nation” in the Charter of Democracy for Senate election reforms. He questioned the opposition parties why they wanted to set up a “market” in the polls. “Why do they want to buy people’s conscience and why don’t they allow the use of votes according to a party’s power?”
Qureshi called upon the opposition to support the government for the required two-thirds majority to pass the constitutional amendment bill, saying the government “took the bill to the [National] Assembly considering their stance [on Senate election reforms in the CoD]”.
“We have reports that there are forces who have the backing of powers that want to spread chaos and instability, want to weaken and are supporting terrorism in Pakistan and don’t want to see the economy flourishing.”
He hoped that the incoming senators would “strengthen the federation” and play their role in protecting the Constitution.