Monday, September 12, 2011

The Senate

The Senate

Senate has been formed for the first time under the present constitutional set-up, as the previous legislatures under both the defunct Constitutions of Islamic Republic of Pakistan were unicameral.

The formation of Senate has the definite advantage of ensuring effective representation of all the provinces in the central legislature to their fullest satisfaction due to the parity of representation. Both chambers may also act as a check on each other. As a matter of fact, concentration of all legislative authority in one House of legislature may lead to legislative autocracy. Thorough examination of a bill and more effective deliberation is possible during the legislative process on account of the presence of upper chamber. An issue can be exhaustively crystallized when it is examined by two different chambers. The senate shall also perform its traditional role, viz, revision of bills sent by the National Assembly and rendering its proposals.

Senate is a permanent Chamber which cannot be dissolved. Half of its members shall be replaced after every three years, after having completed their six years term. Complete change in the total membership, occurs at no stage; rather continuity in the membership is its novel feature.

Chairman and Deputy Chairman

Chairman and Deputy Chairman are elected by the Senate for three years from amongst its members. In the absence of both the office bearers, new one shall be elected. It is to be noted, that both are elected after every three years at the time of the reconstitution of the Senate. The functions and powers of the Chairman are similar to the ones performed by the Speaker of National Assembly. If the President of Pakistan is unable to perform his functions due to absence from the country or any other ground, Chairman of the Senate shall work as Acting President.

Powers of the Senate
In most of the federal states, legislatures are bicameral. The presence of an upper chamber has been regarded as an effective safeguard to protect the interests of the smaller federating units against the encroachment on their rights by the bigger ones. It is to be noted, that in a federation, the upper chamber is constituted normally on the basis of parity of representation.

1. Legislative Powers
According to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, both the Houses of Parliament have almost equal powers. Hence, bills can be initiated in any of the Houses with the exception of money bills which originate in National Assembly exclusively. In the original constitution, the bills relating to the first part of the federal list, could be introduced only in National Assembly but at present no such discrimination has been preserved in respect of ordinary legislation. Consequently, Senate can legislate, with the co-operation of National Assembly, on any matter expressed in the federal or concurrent list.

2. Financial Legislation
The National Assembly enjoys monopoly in respect of fiscal legislation while the Senate has been deprived of direct role to this effect. All the money bills originate in National Assembly and it has the ultimate power over the fate of such bills. It is the function of the Speaker to declare a bill as money bill. Senators can exert indirect influence in shaping financial legislation by passing resolutions or through criticizing the policies of the government.

3. Control over the Executive
According to a constitutional requirement, at least one-fourths of the ministers are to be taken from the Senate. The ministers remain present in this Chamber and the Senators can ask questions concerning their respective portfolios.

4. Judicial Powers
The Senate, along with National Assembly, can legislate on all matters relating to the organization of judiciary. It also shares with National Assembly the power to impeach the President.

In financial matters National Assembly still enjoys superior powers. It is laid down that after the passage of money bills in National Assembly, these shall be sent to the Senate for consideration. The Senate shall consider and review such bills within seven days. The approval of Senate regarding financial bills has not been made obligatory. Exhaustive deliberations on any bill are possible and its drawbacks frequently pointed out, as the fate of government is not involved in this Chamber.

Moreover, strict party discipline does not exist in this Chamber and the issues can be thrashed and examined in a free atmosphere over and above party affiliations. Permanence and continuity in its membership is another distinct feature. But for the success of parliamentary system requires that it should not become rival of the popular chamber, it is rather expected to uphold political values of parliamentary democracy.


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