As opposition threatens to hand in resignations from the federal and provincial legislatures, the ruling party has started weighing the option of holding the Senate polls – scheduled for March – at an earlier date in order to win control of the upper house by snatching majority from the PML-N.
“[Senate polls] can take place even before February,” Federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz said on Tuesday in reply to a question while addressing a press conference after a federal cabinet meeting.
According to Shibli, the cabinet meeting – chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan – mulled over holding the Senate election in February instead of March through open vote instead of secret balloting.
Some analysts believe that the ruling PTI senses that it is just a breath away from becoming the largest party in the Senate and hopes that the majority in the house would solve its legislative problems as well as make the 11-party opposition alliance – the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – redundant.
They said the move to hold the Senate elections earlier is expected to disrupt the PDM plan of forcing the government to resign and hold fresh general elections before March 2021.
According to a statement issued after the meeting, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed Khan gave the cabinet a detailed briefing about the Senate election laws, including voting through show of hands instead of secret ballot.
“There is apparently no prohibition on open ballot in the Constitution of Pakistan,” read the statement. “The cabinet decided that a reference in this regard would be filed in the Supreme Court through the AGP under Article 186 of the Constitution of Pakistan.”
Shibli also confirmed the development, saying the party in power can always influence the Senate elections but the PTI government wanted to hold “transparent and credible” elections by show of hands.
The information minister said PM Imran had removed 20 provincial assembly lawmakers of the PTI after the Senate elections in March 2018 for alleged horse trading.
The statement said Prime Minister Imran Khan emphasized that the only purpose of the legal reform for the elections is to make the whole process transparent. “The door is always open for dialogue with all political parties in this regard,” it read.
Shibli Faraz while replying to a question said the PTI and its coalition partners are enough to run the house and complete the quorum. “The electoral college for Senate would continue to function even if the opposition parties’ – primarily PPP’s – lawmakers hand in resignations from the Sindh assembly.
During a question-answer session, Shibli said the opposition’s Sunday rally in Lahore flopped. He ruled out any possibility of the prime minister resigning on the demands of “unelected” leaders of the PDM.
He said the opposition parties should have consulted the PTI before holding the rally as the PTI, according to him, has experience of holding massive rallies and it could have provided people to the PDM, if they demanded.
The cabinet envisaged that there is a need to develop a mechanism and an accountability process for the funds distributed under the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award.
The Ministry of Finance gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet on the funds allocated to the provinces by the federation and the provinces’ own financial resources.
Under the 7th NFC Award, 42.5% funds go to the federation and 57.5% to the provinces. In the financial year 2018-19, Rs2.4 trillion were given to the provinces by the federation and in the same financial year, the provinces generated Rs496 billion from their own resources.
In the financial year 2019-20, the federation gave Rs2.6 trillion to the provinces and the provinces generated Rs524 billion from their own resources.
In the first five months of the financial year 2020-21, the federation has disbursed Rs1.06 trillion to the provinces, while the provinces have generated Rs226 billion from their own resources.
The cabinet was informed that the federation also provides funds to the provinces for law and order, natural disasters, health, education, awareness programmes and development projects.
The federation also provides subsidies to the provinces in the form of electricity, gas and essential commodities for social security.
“I’m not talking about ending the 18th amendment but it has been 10 years now since its adoption and we should review things,” Shibli said, emphasizing that the cabinet after discussing the merits and demerits of NFC award was in favour of implementing a mechanism to monitor finances.
Covid-19 Relief Fund
During the meeting, the premier was informed that Rs1.08 billion was received in the Prime Minister Covid-19 Relief Fund from the international donors while local donors donated Rs3.8 billion.
Total Rs4.8 billion were deposited in the fund and, as per the instructions of the prime minister and the federal government has increased the amount to Rs24.43 billion.
The cabinet was informed that the payments from the fund were being made in a completely transparent manner and two million people have so far been provided emergency cash from the fund.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar briefed the cabinet on the details of payments made under the Ehsaas Kiflat programme, the Ehsaas National Socio-Economic Survey and the PM’s Covid-19 Relief Fund.
After the briefing, the prime minister directed the provincial governments and the Islamabad administration to consider setting up a “Rehri Bazaar” in view of the coronavirus pandemic so that the employment of poor people would not be affected.
Petrol crisis report
The cabinet was given a detailed briefing about the report of an inquiry commission that probed into shortage of petroleum products in the country in June.
The cabinet approved formation of a committee comprising key federal ministers – Asad Umar, Shafqat Mahmood, Dr Shireen Mazari and Azam Swati – to formulate an action plan to implement the proposals of the inquiry commission. The committee will submit a report to the cabinet in a week.
PM Imran said once the committee submits its report, the government will take strict action against those responsible for the crisis. The cabinet also approved the appointment of Lieutenant General Akhtar Nawaz as the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).