The Senate elections this time around have been particularly fruitful in revealing the social and legal aspects of Pakistan’s ruling elite that need urgent constitutional reform. While the short-sightedness, mutual distrust, and childish stubbornness of party leaders present a strong case for direct elections to the Senate, the use of a presidential ordinance on the day of election to change voting rights of parliamentarians from FATA highlights an even more pressing issue for constitutional reform.

Presidential Ordinances - existing nowhere in the world except in the Sub-continent since the British introduced them here in 1935 - are usually justified as necessary to deal with emergencies that our Parliament is predictably too slow to understand and legislate upon. However, simply noting the bare powers of the President (always acting on behalf of the Prime Minister) is enough to alarm any citizen interested in the growth of democracy in Pakistan.

Firstly, the President holds the powers to call and prorogue sessions of Parliament as well as to pass Ordinances when it is not in session. Consequently, instead of waiting for an emergency, the President can proactively seek to introduce an Ordinance by choosing not to call Parliament or proroguing it at will.

Secondly, the President can pass an Ordinance on any subject short of a constitutional amendment. Most notably, the power to impose taxes that is denied to the Upper House of the Parliament is available to the President. This is truly an embarrassment to the fundamental democratic principle of ‘no taxation without representation’.

Thirdly, the Parliament has no power over Tribal Areas and the President is free to govern these areas at his will without being bound by any provision of the Constitution.

Lastly, the Constitution does not allow the Supreme Court or the High Courts to question any of these Presidential powers.

It is thus clear that, in peace time or war, the Prime Minister (acting through the President) has more legislative powers than the Parliament, that is, more than the Senate with regards to power to tax and more than both the National Assembly and the Senate with regards to Tribal Areas and convening sessions of the Parliament.

While taking stock of necessary constitutional reforms that seem all too inevitable in the near future, the reformers must remember to abolish this most abominable of colonial legacies.