Cabinet’s belated move

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THE Federal Cabinet, the highest decision-making plat form in the country, which met in Islamabad on Tuesday with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, made apparently politically motivated but belated move on the crucial issue of holding elections of the upper house through open ballot besides striking down the recommendation for mortgaging of Capital’s iconic F-9 Park against issuance of Islamic Sukuk bonds and decided to expand the scope of inquiry by one member commission of retired Justice Azmat Saeed to include issues like Surrey Palace and Swiss cases.

The decision of the Cabinet to table a constitutional amendment bill in Parliament for holding the Senate elections through open ballot is, no doubt, motivated by its desire to ensure transparency of the polls, which have always been marred by allegations of sale and purchase of loyalties. The earlier move of the Government – filing of presidential reference in the Supreme Court – was also aimed at the same objective. However, the latest move is somewhat belated and can best be described as an attempt to play with the galleries, knowing well that the ruling alliance lacks the required two-third majority in Parliament, which is a must for adoption of a constitutional amendment. Irrespective of the principled position of the Government the Opposition was unlikely to extend any support in the given circumstances when the two sides are engaged in intense political tussle and confrontation. This is also evident from the reply that the Sindh Government has filed in the Supreme Court supporting the secret ballot and opposing the open ballot. In this backdrop, in the first place, when the issue was there for years one fails to understand why timely initiatives were not taken to complete the formalities for the purpose by enlisting support of the Opposition. Secondly, by deciding to adopt the course of the constitutional amendment the Government has ultimately accepted the widely-held view that open ballot was not possible sans constitutional amendment, which is also the viewpoint of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

All this shows the Government team did not do its home work properly and merely wasted time by trying different options and that too as an afterthought. The fate of the proposed move of tabling an amendment in Parliament is known beforehand while the Supreme Court is understandably taking its time to firm up opinion on whether or not what the Government wanted to achieve through presidential reference was within the constitutional scheme of things. As the issue of horse-trading has been highlighted, people expect both from the Government and the Opposition not to indulge in dirty practice of purchasing loyalties for the sake of one or two seats that can be manipulated through such tactics. It is also a fact that apart from reforms in Senate election laws and rules, there are other scores of issues that spark electoral controversies, depriving general elections of their credibility and these too demand similar attention. Therefore, once the Senate elections are held with or without open ballot, genuine and sincere efforts should be made from the platform of Parliament to reform the entire system. As for the decision of the Cabinet not to pledge the F-9 Park for raising debt, the Government has obviously been influenced by the hype created in formal and social media and statements of the Opposition politicians.

It hardly makes any difference whether you offer F-9 Park or Islamabad Club for mortgage as both are national assets. If mortgaging of F-9 Park was wrong, the same principle applies to other entities and buildings of the country as well. Assets of the country were mortgaged by past governments of PPP and PML(N) as well and this is a normal business practice, which, in no way, means landing of these assets into hands of investors at the end of the day. It is, in fact, the attitude of Opposition for the sake of opposition that makes even rational and beneficial moves controversial as we have also seen in the case of building of large dams to ensure water and power security. The ruling party criticized such commercial arrangements in the past and is now faced with a similar dilemma at the hands of its opponents. It is because of such tendencies that saner elements have been demanding all the political parties to agree on a Charter of Economy so that the country and its people do not suffer due to political gimmicks.

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