ISLAMABAD: Saturday’s polls for 52 Senate seats had many surprises to offer. It has set a political tone that we can anticipate for the next few years, at least.
If the victory of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (leader) Chaudhry Sarwar from Punjab was a setback to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) grabbing two seats from K-P was not a lesser surprise. Embroiled in the internal crisis, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) had to suffer the most. The party, which was once considered an unchallengeable force in Karachi, could clinch only one seat.
In the 2013 general elections, 51 MPAs were elected to the Sindh Assembly on the MQM ticket. However, the party was left with 37 lawmakers after many of them jumped ship to join the Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). Among the remaining 37, 14 voted for the PPP candidates in this Senate polls which came as a humiliation for the party’s two newly formed groups – one led by Farooq Sattar and the other by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui.
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The process of horse-trading for Senate polls had started with the change of government in Balochistan two months ago. Of the 11 Senate seats contested from the province, independents grabbed six. All the four Fata seats contested in this election went to the independents.
Once the outgoing senators retire on March 11, the ruling PML-N would become the largest party in the new Senate as at least 15 independents backed by it have secured victory. But, the Parliament’s upper house would continue to be dominated by opposition groups.
The ruling party’s 18 existing Senators would continue for the next three years and with an addition of 15 new members, it has become the single largest party having support of 33 members.
It would be followed by the PPP with 20 members, the PTI having 12, the MQM, the National Party (NP) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) would have five each, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) four, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) two, while the ANP and the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) one each.
All together out of the 52 newly-elected senators, 32 contested as independents, including 15 backed by the PML-N and two by the PkMAP.
Challenge for PML-N
Once the new senators take oath, an immediate challenge for the Nawaz League would be the election for the Senate chairman and deputy chairman. It would have to trade one of the two seats to another major group (or groups) in the House to get the required support.
Legislation, except the money bill, have to be passed both by the National Assembly and Senate. During the last four years of the Nawaz League’s rule at the Center, many a legislation, was blocked in the Senate, though some were later passed in the parliament’s joint sessions.
Similarly, an amendment to the Constitution needs support of two-thirds of the members of both houses of the parliament separately.
With the next general elections due in July or August this year, the new composition of the Senate after March 11, would have an important role to play at least for the next three years.
Legal cover against defection
All those elected as independents in Saturday’s election would continue to enjoy a legal cover against defection, even if they join political parties that supported their election to the upper house.
Those elected as independents surpassed the ones elected on party tickets in this election.
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Legally, independents form the largest group in the 104-member house. The Senate had 10 independent members, five of them are among the 52 Senators retiring this month. With election of 27 new members, the total strength of independents stands at 32.
Even if these 17 independents claimed by the PML-N and the PkMAP are excluded, still there will be a strong group of 15 independents, constituting the third largest group.
Those who were ticket-holders of the PML-N before the February 21 Supreme Court’s decision which stripped former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of his party office, were subsequently declared independents as well.
In the Constitution there are provisions for members of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies to join a party if elected as independents. There is no such provision for the senators.
If a member is elected to the National Assembly as an independent, Article 51 (e) provides that the member can join a party within three days after his/her name is published in the official gazette as winner.
A similar provision is given in Article 106 of the Constitution for provisional assembly members. Immediately after results of the national and provincial assembly are officially announced, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issues a notification giving those elected as independents an option to join a political party. If they don’t join a party within the specified timeframe, such members are treated as independents.
For members elected as independents in the Senate, there is no such provision, neither in the Constitution, nor in any other law. Such members are not bound to follow the line of any political party, nor would defection clause apply to them throughout their term in case they switch sides.