The passage by the Senate of the 20th Amendment was momentous, but not just because the Constitution was amended. It was so for the wrong reason that the Senators needed to be given development funds aplenty to pass the Amendment, which had already gone through the National Assembly. It thus made inevitable that it becomes law, which it will even if it does not receive presidential assent. It was perhaps a matter of timing, but a number of the Senators voting for the Bill, including the two Jamaat-i-Islami Senators voting against it, are retiring in March after the completion of their terms. This has become clear because the Senate elections are on the basis of the party positions in the provincial assemblies, and while a number of the Senators voting have been reselected, many have been dropped. Another aspect to be noted about the Jamaat Senators is that they ended the unanimity with which this Assembly had been passing constitutional amendments. The 18th and 19th Amendments had passed both Houses unanimously, while the 20th had passed the National Assembly unanimously.

However, the passage of the 20th Amendment was apparently oiled by the doling out of development funds, as well as the notification of the perks and privileges of retired Senators, measures which were announced by Senator Islamuddin Sheikh, the PPP Chief Whip. Development funds were released to Senators from their held-up development funds, with the PPP’s Nayyar Bukhari, Maula Bux Chandio and Safdar Abbasi all multi-million rupee beneficiaries, as were the PML(N)’s Mushahidullah and Pervaiz Rasheed and the PML(Q)’s Ch Shujaat Hussain. Rs 366.1 million were released to 60 Senators, including 20 due to retire. This meant that the 20th Amendment was not passed because it tackled the question of caretaker set-ups for general elections, or even because it validated the election of those legislators who had won by-elections in the absence of a properly constituted election Commission, but because funds were released. The retiring Senators who had funds released benefited doubly, because they would also get the perks and privileges which were notified. The Senators apparently did not pay attention to their colleagues, some of whom were about to be unseated, as being close to them, but they needed the release of funds before they voted.

There is a danger of the real purpose of the Amendment being lost in the midst of the hullabaloo over the affected members. That is perhaps logical, because the Amendment would not have been introduced if their fate had not been involved, but that should not obscure the fact that the Amendment also includes a change in the procedure for forming a caretaker government. This assumes greater relevance with the next election around the corner, even if not premature, as it is likely to be. The process is still to be managed by the government, and it is incumbent on it to ensure that all the provisions of the Constitution are followed, and most important, that their spirit is maintained, and no attempt made to bypass them.