There was a certain inevitability about the shape of the political chessboard after the March 3rd Senate elections as the country’s biggest and perhaps most seasoned and experienced parties—the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Peoples Party—posted the strongest gains in the secret ballot. Over the next few days, both of them will be looking to consolidate their position in the upper house by roping in more independent candidates. All the surprises seemed to come from parties that made the fewest gains such as the MQM which secured a single seat in spite of its sizeable presence in the Sindh Assembly. This perhaps had more to do with the fractious infighting within the party in the run-up to the Senate vote – although the fickleness of the desperate agreement between MQM factions may have played an equal part. The reform-minded PTI clinched six seats and established itself as the third biggest party in the house despite trailing far behind the PPP and PML.
With the kind of multiple choices built into the secret ballot under which each legislator votes for a candidate, it is hard to rule out the infusion of big money or enticement in determining who eventually gets elected to the Senate. The process or system of election is not at fault; it has been made controversial by vested political interests. Under these circumstances, it is fair to ask both public representatives and others whether newly elected members of the upper house can discharge the constitutional mandate of this highest legislative forum. Given their commitment to dispense their democratic duties or lack thereof, it would be worthwhile to know how they intend to fulfil their obligations in the Senate by raising their concern over major provincial, regional and federal issues. Senators who are generally insulated from constituency politics are expected to hold institutions as well as government accountable for their actions. They must participate wholeheartedly in legislative action and stand up in defence of provincial or regional interests – if they are to uphold their oath of office. If the same is not happening, it is because they continue to represent political parties and not the provinces and regions they are elected from.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2018.
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