In the run up to the elections for half of the Senate seats on March 5, it is evident that political parties have put forth candidates on the basis of their kinship and loyalty rather than suitability for parliamentary assignments in the Senate. On top of that, rumours of MPAs and MNAs selling their votes for hard cash abound. Amounts ranging from Rs. 15 million to Rs. 50 million are being widely quoted as the going rate for a senate seat. While such electoral practices are obviously damaging to the spirit of democracy and the moral authority of the candidates and voters alike, their use in indirect elections to the Upper House of the Parliament offers biting evidence of the plutocratic nature of democracy in Pakistan.

On its face, the Constitution of 1973 creates a representative democracy in a federal framework and gives people several valuable rights and offices which they can use to mobilize the constitutional framework. On its face, it is not a bad Constitution. However, just as performing religious rituals is not a guarantee of spiritual purity of the soul, sticking to a written constitution is not enough to create the perspective and ethics necessary to bring good governance and public welfare to a nation. In constitutional politics, as in religion, useful organizational principles can be misappropriated to extend historical injustices and tyrannies while pretending to do the opposite all along. For instance, most of the rights and offices created by or under the Constitution have been so manipulated and disfigured as to be available to ordinary citizens only on payment of cash or the recommendation of a kin. This fact becomes evident when any citizen - rich or poor - finds herself in need of any public good like health, education, justice, transport, security, a government job, a seat in the National Assembly, etc. Naturally, this perverse approach to the constitutional scheme has produced a political hierarchy based almost entirely on family wealth. For the MNAs and MPAs – rich enough to spend millions on their own campaigns – selling Senate votes is most likely just another way of recouping their investment while in office.

While it is the constitutional right of all representative political parties to nominate Senate candidates of their choice, this right must be balanced with the constitutional right of the general electorate to have a Senate worth the name. While it would be too much to ask for wholesale reform, the directly elected parliamentarians and their party bosses must at least assure their constituents that each of their nominee senators is capable of reading, understanding, and debating any legislation without having to call in her lawyers.