They say all’s fair in love and war. Frank Smedley obviously made an omission of not including politics- the ‘second oldest profession’- in his famous category. Recently the controversy surrounding the ‘selling’ of Senate tickets has come in the spotlight when half of the members are going to retire on March 3, to be followed by mid-term elections, which will ensure the emergence of the majority of the ruling party PML-N. Not surprisingly, on this occasion, the evaluation of performance of the Senate has not become the subject of discussion.

The Senate in Pakistan- the grand upper legislative chamber- performs primarily three functions: one, it serves to give equal representation to all federating units, thus dispelling any sense of marginalization among smaller provinces; two, it plays its role in reviewing and scrutinizing the legislation passed by the lower house, with the advantage of calm and poise unavailable to the directly elected representatives of the lower house; third it performs constitutional function at the time of election or impeachment of the President. The meaningful execution of these functions depends on the quality of members of the senate who are indirectly elected by the provincial legislatures.

The Eighteenth Amendment significantly enhanced the powers of Senate, inter alia, by making the Prime Minister and his cabinet responsible to both the National Assembly and the Senate. The President has also been restrained from promulgating an ordinance when the Senate, a house of continuity, is in session. But these changes have not improved the performance of the Senate in any remarkable way and the sessions are often hit by lack of quorum. The PM and the senior cabinet members remain absent from the House, the period of PTI sit-ins was a rare exception when the government representatives were scurrying to and fro for their survival. The Senate makes headlines only after every three years when the ‘bidding’ for election to the soon-to-be-vacant seats kicks off.

In elections this year, the press reports have suggested the price for a Senate seat has gone up to a staggering 150 million rupees, and the MPAs from parties with less disciplined structures have individually contacted the wealthy contenders for selling their ‘votes of conscience’. Though the use of money in Senate polls is as old as the establishment of the chamber in Pakistan, there has been some hue and cry by two participating political parties- the JI and the PTI. The furor by the JI makes sense as it has only five MPAs in the KP legislative Assembly and it definitely needs the support of its coalition partner to win a seat. Political analysts have observed that PTI is a newcomer in the arena and therefore does not know the tricks of the trade, which has also given rise to internal rifts within the party. In Punjab and Sindh, there have been fewer concerns raised because the two big parties have clear majority in provincial assemblies and, therefore, deals have been cut at the party level. How could members of Parliament, elected after the abovementioned haggling, be expected to perform the sacred tasks of legislation and deliberation in an honest manner? They only use their position to make money to be in the race for another six-year term.

The trend though is not uniquely prevalent in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In America, the cost of elections of a Senator is estimated to be around $10 million, which compels the contenders to focus most of their time on raising funds. And, once elected, they are beholden to the industrialists and corporations, who have brought them to power. The factum of the increasing role of money in elections has led to the deterioration of the quality of a democratic system, making power the monopoly of the rich. Modern day capitalists have effectually rendered the idea of adult franchise redundant.

Amidst the allegations of horse-trading in recent Senate elections, there has come up a proposal to amend the Constitution to hold elections by open ballot. The Prime Minister also showed his support for the suggestion, without thinking that the idea of election by show of hands goes against the democratic standards. This move will not bring about a change rather the MPAs will be reduced to rubber stamps who will vote for selectees of the party leader. Money games will continue at the party level, as is now the case of older political parties.

The direct election of Senate could go a long way in increasing its democratic legitimacy as presently the Senators feel themselves accountable to nobody for their performance after ‘buying’ a seat. Such directly elected house, along with the National Assembly, should be made part of electoral college for the election of Prime Minister, that might also help in securing the presence of the Prime Minister and his cabinet members in the august chamber.