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All parties vow to make electoral reforms after Senate elections.

National Assembly of Pakistan. (APP photo) ISLAMABAD: All Pakistan's major political parties, including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have vowed to work on electoral reforms to make Senate elections more transparent. The move comes just a day after elections to the Upper House of parliament were held to fill 52 vacant seats from all four provinces, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). However, representatives of all parliamentary parties admit that reforming Senate elections will be a Herculean task that may not be accomplished any time soon. "If our party gets a majority in the general elections, we will amend the constitution and make sure that senators are elected through direct elections," said Fawad Chaudhry, secretary information for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to Arab News. He claimed his party floated the same proposal last year in parliament, adding that it was shot down by PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the major opposition faction in the National Assembly. "The whole province should be declared a constituency for Senate elections," he suggested. "The first 11 or 12 candidates who bag maximum votes can be declared winners." Under the present system, Senate elections are held through secret balloting in the National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies. This usually results in the allegation of "horse-trading" -- or switching of political loyalties for substantial amounts of money -- in the polls. Political analysts and organizations working to strengthen democracy in the country have urged the parties to amend the constitution to make Senate elections more free, fair and transparent. The PPP leadership, however, says there is no easy method for this and discussions on the electoral reforms are already underway in their party and the Senate itself. "Our focus is on plugging the loopholes in the current system instead of overhauling the whole process," said PPP senator Taj Haider. Discussing two possible alternatives, he said that neither direct elections nor selection of senators on the basis of their party's representations in the National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies was feasible. "No candidate with a humble background will ever be able to run an election campaign in the whole province and get elected to Senate," he told Arab News. Haider said the selection of senators on the basis of proportional representation would virtually kick parties with little numerical strength in provincial assemblies out of the process. "A Senate committee is already discussing the matter and hopefully a feasible way will be hammered out through consultation with all stakeholders," he said. Pakistan's ruling party also supports the electoral reforms debate, but it does not intend to initiate any immediate measures to rectify the election process for the Upper House. "It is the responsibility of all political parties to abide by the election laws since reforms won't automatically fix the process," said the PML-N senator and secretary of information Mushahid Ullah Khan. "There is always a room for reforms and we are prepared to get into this debate with other political forces," he told Arab News. "Our party believes in transparency of elections and we are ready to take all necessary measures for it." Pakistan's 104-member Senate ensures equal representation for all provinces in the house with 23 members from each of the four provinces, besides a fair representation for FATA and ICT which send eight and four members to the Upper House, respectively. Each senator is elected for a six-year term, but 50 percent of them retire every three years, and elections are held to fill the vacant slots. All new members elected in Saturday's Senate polls will take oath on March 12 and a new Chairman Senate will also be elected on the same day. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, executive director of PILDAT, a non-governmental organization that works for strengthening democracy, played down the impression of horse-trading in Senate polls, saying that only 10 percent of candidates usually benefit from it. "The vote in the Senate elections is transferable and the whole procedure is so complicated that this gives an impression of a kind of foul play," he told Arab News. Mehboob said it was possible to make the election process more transparent by following the Indian model in which members of the Upper House are made to show their stamped ballot paper to their respective party members before casting a vote. "No system is perfect," he said. "However, it is important to fix the apparent loopholes to ensure people's trust in democracy and rule of law."

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 4, 2018
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