What is a senator and are they powerful?
The Senate elections are in the news and our TV rundown has been full of developments. But what is a Senate election and why are they all talking about open balloting? Our news editor Ismail Sheikh explains it in 2 minutes. Hopefully this audio will bring you up to date so you can hold forth like any talk show host or at least pretend to.
The Senate has 104 senators at this moment in time. The election is being held because the terms in office of 52 or almost half of Pakistan’s senators are coming to an end in March. This includes the deputy chairman of the Senate, Senator Saleem Mandviwalla of the PPP. Mandviwalla’s three years as a senator are up.
With Mandviwalla’s term as a senator expired, his seat as deputy chairman will also be up for grabs. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf would definitely want one of its own to become the next deputy chairman.
Over the weekend, on Saturday, President Arif Alvi signed the Elections Ordinance 2021 which paved the way for open balloting in the Senate. This is a vote by a show of hands as opposed to people voting secretly. (The president may have signed the ordinance (or law) but it can only be used if the Supreme Court says so.)
This is how a senator is elected
Our Islamabad Bureau Chief, Khalid Azim Chaudhry, explained it very simply. Each provincial assembly gets to elect 23 senators each because the Senate has to have an equal number of people from each province. This means their MPAs vote. The government wants this voting to be open and not by secret ballot.
You should also know that there were eight senators from former Fata but since these former tribal districts merged with KP, its retiring senators will not be replaced.
The National Assembly MNAs get to vote on two senators from the federal capital, Islamabad to be sent to the Senate.
On March 11, 52 senators will retire and the elections will be for 48 new ones. (That makes a total of 100).
Senate seats are reserved for women, minorities and technocrats. The rest are called general seats.
The government wanted this Elections Ordinance 2021 because it says it wants to stop horse-trading. The Opposition says that the government is scared that its senators will vote for the opposition’s candidates which is why it wants to introduce open balloting.
Are senators powerful?
In a way, they are. But in a way they aren’t.
In a sense, their real power lies in balancing out voting on making new laws. New laws or changes to the biggest law of the land, the Constitution, can be put forward by any house of elected representatives now. If the National Assembly comes up with a law, it can vote to pass it but it then has to send it to be approved by the Senate. And vice versa for the Senate, which has to send new laws or changes to the National Assembly after its house passes it.
The National Assembly tends to be Punjab-strong (that is why it is informally called the House of the Federation). But because the Senate has an equal number of senators from each province there is a higher chance of them either rejecting or asking for changes to, say, any new law that may put other provinces at a disadvantage. It is a system of checks and balances to prevent power from being abused.
They have no financial powers over the national budget as such. All they can do is make recommendations to the National Assembly—which can be ignored.
They have no say in the election of a prime minister. That is done by the National Assembly.
A senator has roughly the same perks and privileges of an MNA.