On the eve of the Senate’s 45th foundation day both President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi commented on the importance of the Senate in protecting the interests of all the federating units as each had equal representation in terms of number and hence had more protection of their interests and rights. The President went on to say that a strong upper house of the Parliament ensures a stronger state.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabani felt that the Senate could be stonger. He argued for increasing the powers of the Senate, saying that like many other countries equal powers must be granted to the upper house so that it could effectively raise voice for the federating units when the matter comes to their rights, especially in joint sittings of parliament where the number of votes take the highest priority and the Senate with its limited seats makes a proportionally lesser impact.

While his observation is correct – the Senate is disproportionately weaker in joint sessions of Parliament – that alone is not reason enough to put the Senate on equal footing with the National Assembly. Doing that is also a problematic notion; do we increase the number of seats in the Senate or give each Senator a weighted vote in joint sessions?

The answer is neither; the upper house serves a special function in bicameral systems and that is why its composition, election methods, terms and powers are usually different from the lower houses. The Senate has done commendable work in this term, outstripping the National Assembly on several occasions when it came to legislation and executive oversight. Based on that arguments can be made for increasing the powers of the Senate – but those powers cannot be increased to the extent that both houses of the Parliament stand at equal footing.