Upper House seeks renewed constitutional powers to shore up spirit of federalism
On Monday, in a rare and welcome development, the Senators put their party and petty differences aside and passed a unanimous resolution on a purely political matter. The measure was introduced by the Leader of the House, the seemingly eternal Raja Zafar ul Haq of PML-N under the no doubt satisfied gaze of Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani and, nowadays sterner visage, of Opposition Leader Aitzaz Ahsan, both hardened PPP veterans. The resolution calls for amendments in eleven relevant articles of the Constitution to increase the scope and powers of the Senate and ensure an appropriate balance between the Federation and the provinces. The Senate is traditionally considered a symbol of the Federal idea, and comprises a more sober and experienced lot than the Lower House. The Senate Chairman’s recent diatribe on the US Visas affair was however an aberration.
The upgraded changes are sought in the spirit of the 18th Amendment of 2010, which decentralised and devolved many ministries under Islamabad’s sway to the provinces. Another consideration might be the relatively indifferent performance of the National Assembly (NA), as well as the Centre’s indecision on core matters. Compulsory cabinet meetings are now held only under court orders, the PM and ministers neglect the House and lack of quorum is the norm.
For National Finance Commission Award, the Senate desires modification of Article 160, making its approval mandatory if the government extends the previous award for a year, and also the power to increase the provinces’ share by one percent in this eventuality, to ensure fiscal autonomy. In joint sessions of Parliament, a weightage is sought between the 342 members of the NA and the 104 Senators, whereby one Senator’s vote would equal three NA voters. Other adjustments include powers to resolve federation/province disputes, allowing chief ministers’ direct address in the Senate, resident qualifications for general elections, and for Senate Chairman to preside over joint sessions. Hopefully, the federal government will respond swiftly to these well-meaning overtures in a like spirit of amity for democracy’s sake.