ISLAMABAD - A new question was raised in the Senate that whether or not Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-backed elected independent senators — who had to join the electoral race without a party symbol after a Supreme Court decision — can now join a political party as the Constitution is silent on the matter.

PML-N Senator Gen (r) Abdul Qayyum on Monday raised the issue on the maiden day of the farewell session of the Senate who sought a ruling of Senate chairman on the matter saying that the constitutional provision was silent when it came to the independent members of the upper house of the parliament. He viewed that the constitution recognised the right of the lawmakers to join a political party but apparently, the same had been denied to the members of the Senate.

Senator Qayyum while referring to articles of the Constitution said that members of the National Assembly, as well as the provincial assemblies, were free to join a political party but within a timeframe of three days after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), through a notification, declares them winning candidates.

“This is because they have to vote to elect a prime minister and a chief minister respectively. But when it comes to the independent members of the Senate, no timeframe has been described in the law for them to join a political party,” he said and sought the ruling of the chair.

However, the outgoing Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani remained silent on the issue indicating that there might be some criteria for the elected independent senators to join political parties.

The PML-N nominated candidates had to contest the March 3 Senate elections as independents following the verdict of the Supreme Court that disqualified ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif as the party president, who had earlier issued tickets to the nominees.

Separately, Law Minister Mehmood Bashir Virk informed the house that software was being prepared, in the light of the Supreme Court order, to enable overseas Pakistanis to vote. “The software may be ready in April as the court would fix the matter in the same month,” he said.

The minister said this while winding up the debate on a motion moved by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senator Muhammad Azam Swati, seeking discussion on the steps taken so far by the government to give the right to franchise to overseas Pakistanis.

The minister said that the use of electronic voting machines could give rise to some problems like hacking of accounts and irregularities. He also noted that giving right of vote to overseas Pakistanis was a complex matter.

Taking part in the debate, most lawmakers from both sides of the aisle supported the demand of giving the right to vote to overseas Pakistanis. However, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan Senator Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said that there was a need to bring changes in laws governing the activities of Pakistani political parties’ overseas, as there was a ban in India on political activities of political parties abroad. He pointed out that Pakistan’s political parties also collect donations abroad. He said that even those Pakistanis who had surrendered their Pakistani nationality are also office-bearers of their political parties abroad.

Pakistan People’s Party Senator Sherry Rehman, speaking on a motion, claimed that domestic borrowing of the country had touched the alarming figure of over Rs16 trillion. She said that it was alarming that domestic borrowing had exceeded the total size of the country’s annual budget, which showed that the domestic debt had increased 71 percent in a short span of one-year. Criticizing the government for its “flawed” repayment plan, she said the government had changed the definition of domestic borrowing twice to keep the masses and its representatives in the dark.

State Minister for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal defended his government and said that it was the previous PPP government which was responsible for the sharp increase in domestic debt as it was $1.8 trillion back in 2012-13 – the highest ever domestic debt. He said that there had been no alarming situation in the country about the domestic borrowing as all-out efforts were being made to control the trade deficit.

 PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz also moved a motion about non-issuance of computerized national identity cards to a large number of women which had resulted in non-registration of their names in the voters’ list. He pointed out that over 12 million women were missing from the voters’ list due to non-issuance of CNICs to them. He blamed the National Database and Registration Authority for depriving women of their basic right by creating problems in the issuance of the CNICs.

Senator Jamal Dini of BNP-Mengal said that 67 percent women of Balochistan were yet to be registered by the NADRA.

Winding up the debate, State Minister for Interior Talal Chaudhry said that the government gave equal importance to all the areas with regard to registration of women whether it was a backward area of Balochistan or the modern city of Islamabad.

He said there was no truth in the claims that people of Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA were facing any kind of discrimination as the number of registered men and women in these areas was much higher as compared to that of Islamabad.

The house also passed resolutions recommending the government to make a policy for provision of jammers for private vehicles of MNAs, senators, MPAs, political parties’ heads, ex-chief ministers and governors due to security reasons.