Friday, March 13, 2015
Daily Times Editorial March 14, 2015
Senate complete The process of elections to the Senate was finally completed on March 12 when the Chairman and Deputy Chairman were installed. For Chairman, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the PPP’s Raza Rabbani would be the automatic choice. And so it proved, since he was elected unanimously in the absence of any challenger. Rabbani brings to the office impressive credentials over the years from his early beginnings as a student political activist to his steady rise through the ranks of the PPP. In recent years, after the restoration of democracy in 2008, he brought to the deliberations of parliament not only an acute legal brain but also a politics of principle that saw parliament as the rightful sovereign institution and worked towards that end in legislative matters and the debates in the house. His outstanding contribution was the framing of the 18th Amendment, a herculean effort that succeeded in hammering out consensus on most of its provisions, the failure to remove many of General Ziaul Haq’s distortions in the constitution notwithstanding. His speech in the Senate on the 21st Amendment that set up military courts brought forth his deeply felt angst at the necessity of voting for something his conscience would not sit comfortably with. Despite that blip on an otherwise enviable clean record as a legislator of some power and talent, Rabbani’s respect amongst his colleagues and the general public did not dip appreciably as most people were prepared to recognise the compulsions of necessity that forced Rabbani’s hand. Before taking oath, Rabbani addressed the house, thanking all and sundry for reposing the confidence they had in him and vowing, expectedly, to uphold the sovereignty of parliament against all comers. In this desirable aim, he appealed to the National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq to work with him. Maulana Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F’s election by 74 votes out of 96 cast (of which six were rejected on technical grounds) showed the success of his party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s manoeuvring as much as the sensitivity of the house to giving a candidate from Balochistan the second highest spot in the Senate. Some mundane political considerations may also have gained the JUI-F candidate some support, especially from the ruling PML-N that is in a coalition with the JUI-F in Balochistan. In an otherwise smooth election process for the Senate, the only surprise was that his rival candidate, Syed Shibli Faraz of the PTI, garnered nine extra votes to come out with 16 against his expected seven votes, six from his party’s newly elected senators and one from coalition ally JI. Much speculation has broken out about these extra nine votes, with critics of the PTI castigating it for possible horse-trading, but most senators regarding it as a signal to all parties, especially the JUI-F, that all was not well in their ranks. The PPP now enjoys the rare privilege of having its Chairman of the Senate for the third time running. Whereas Raza Rabbani promised to treat all his colleagues fairly while running the house, formidable challenges to the new Chairman’s role cannot be ignored. The struggle for democracy in Pakistan has no doubt proceeded incrementally by leaps and bounds, even though when viewed in a day-to-day context or in terms of the people’s discontents with the system’s failure so far to deliver meaningful change in their lives, it may seem the turnaround is glacial and unsatisfactory. The task before the political class is to make the federation, creaking at the joints because of imbalances in power and representation and subject to many strains in national unity and harmony, stronger by consolidating the sovereignty of parliament over and above all other state institutions. This is easier said than done, given, as Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP pointed out, the civil-military disconnect and the erosion of parliament’s power at the hands of other state institutions (the stand-off with former Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s Supreme Court being a case in point). Consolidating democracy and its apex elected institutions of parliament was always going to be a slow and uphill grind in Pakistan’s context. But perhaps the glass should be seen as half-full in the hope that whatever has been achieved to date will be carried forward under the competent leadership of the new Chairman.