The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – the alliance of a dozen opposition parties – pulled off a spectacular upset in Wednesday’s Senate elections which eclipsed the gains made by the governing party in the four federating units. The high-stakes contest for one of the two federal capital seats carried huge symbolic value as the opposition believed its victory here would mean the prime minister doesn’t command confidence of the house.
It was a contest between Yousuf Raza Gilani, the joint candidate of the PDM component parties, and Abdul Hafeez Sheikh of the PTI for the general Senate seat from Islamabad.
In the house of 341 members, a total of 340 MPs cast their votes. Gilani outvoted Sheikh by a slim margin of five votes. He bagged 169 votes against 164 of his rival. Seven votes also were rejected.
Surprisingly, PTI’s Fauzia Arshad won the seat reserved for women from the capital by securing 174 votes against 161 polled by PML-N's Farzana Kausar. This time the number of rejected votes was five.
Gilani’s shock victory forced the embattled prime minister, Imran Khan, to seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly in an effort to outmaneuver the opposition.
Soon after the results were announced, questions were raised on the rejected votes and about the lawmakers who ditched the ruling party and voted for the PDM’s candidate and paved the way for an unprecedented political defeat for a sitting government in the country’s parliamentary history.
Members of the treasury benches accused the opposition of “buying” lawmakers while the opposition called the “change of heart” a result of the government’s policies.
Defeat on the capital’s hotly-contested seat is considered a huge blow to the incumbent government amid political volatility spawned by its aggressive accountability in September 2020.
Wednesday’s defeat has not only shifted the political gravity towards the opposition but also forced the PTI’s top leadership to announce that the premier has decided to take a vote of confidence to continue his term – just two-and-a-half years after assuming the office.
The five-vote victory has brought the defining moment in the otherwise battle of narratives going on for months and ended at the opposition’s demand for the premier’s resignation – a demand that Imran Khan had made from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif during the 2014 sit-in in the capital.
Explaining the procedure of the vote of confidence, PML-N’s Barrister Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha referred to Article 91(7) of the Constitution.
It states: “Prime Minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the President, but the President shall not exercise his powers under this clause unless he is satisfied that the Prime Minister does not command the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly, in which case he shall summon the National Assembly and require the Prime Minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the Assembly.”
Ranjha said that Section 36 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007, explain that whenever the Prime Minister has to obtain a vote of confidence under Clause (7) of Article 91, voting shall be recorded in accordance with the procedure set out in the Second Schedule, which defines the procedure for recording of votes.
Since all elections under Section 226 of the Constitution, other than those of the Prime Minister and the chief minister, are held by secret ballot, he said, the voting process will be opened and if the premier fails to get a simple majority – 172 votes out of the 342 votes – he is sent packing and the cabinet stands dissolved.
Under Article 58(1) of the Constitution, Ranjha said the President can dissolve the National Assembly if so advised by the Prime Minister but it can only happen before the House goes for a vote of confidence and a Prime Minister against whom a resolution for a vote of no confidence has been passed can’t dissolve the assembly.
Article 58(2) states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in clause (2) of Article 48, the President may also dissolve the National Assembly in his discretion where, a vote of no-confidence having been passed against the Prime Minister, no other member of the National Assembly command the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, as ascertained in a session of the National Assembly summoned for the purpose.”
Article 91(8) states that the Prime Minister may, by writing under his hand addressed to the President, resign his office.
When the opposition parties had nominated Gilani as its joint candidate, few believed it marked the beginning of his ascent into the upper house of parliament, especially, after being disqualified by the Supreme Court in 2012. However, Gilani’s upset victory shows why elections are held rather than choosing of candidates on the basis of mere popularity.
“I, the Returning Officer for election to the Senate from the Federal Capital, hereby certify that I have on the 3rd day of March 2021 declared Mr Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to have been duly elected to be a Member of the Senate of Pakistan,” the certificate of election read, which was issued after the elections.
During the vote-counting process, Gilani and Shaikh sat together on the opposition benches, they appeared calm and friendly, and continued their discussion throughout the vote-counting process. They also strolled together in the aisles before the results were announced at 6:47pm.
Once the result was out, Gilani and Shaikh hugged, shook hands and left the assembly hall. A few minutes later, Gilani returned with opposition parties’ lawmakers to celebrate his victory near the speaker’s desk.
Meanwhile, during the election, the vote of PTI lawmaker and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir Shehryar Khan Afridi was rendered invalid after he signed his ballot paper.
After the opposition was declared victorious, PML-N’s polling agent Attaullah Tarar told the media that the vote cast by Premier Imran was among two votes that carried a tick rather than a number on the ballot paper.
Commenting on the opposition's victory, Ranjha said that "this is the day of democracy and political conscience".
Meanwhile, a heated debate is expected in the National Assembly that will convene on March 4 (today) at 11am.