Honours evenly poised for Senate battle

Will the ruling PTI, its allies pull off a surprise in the elections?


Rizwan Shehzad   March 12, 2021
PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:

With political passions running high, senators are all set to vote for electing chairman and his deputy today (Friday) soon after half of the newly-elected members of the upper house take oath.

With the numbers stacked against the ruling party and its allies ahead of Friday’s election of the Senate chairman and their deputy, it seems that the government would fail if the lawmakers cast their votes as per the party positions that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) notified on Wednesday while releasing the results of the recent elections of the upper house of parliament.

Speculations that started since March 3 slowed down after the ECP announced the names of the returning candidates along with their party affiliation just two days ahead of the polls for two coveted seats in the Senate. On Friday, a day after the outgoing senators and on the day newly-elected members are sworn in, the House will elect a new chairman and deputy chairman.

According to the data released by the ECP and earlier published, the 11-party opposition alliance – the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – has an edge of seven votes over the government. The opposition parties currently have a total strength of 51 while the government coalition stands at 44. With the announcement of Mirza Muhammad Afridi as the deputy chairman by the government side, the number has assumingly reached 45; leaving the difference to six votes.

If one vote of PML-N’s Ishaq Dar, who was elected senator in 2018 but did not take oath, is removed from the equation then the opposition will have 50 eligible voters and it will reduce the total number of voters to 99 members.

Read more: Senate chairmanship: Parties try inroads into rival camps

Of the total 99 votes, the opposition has 50 votes, government 45, independent lawmakers three and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has one vote. These numbers include two independent senators – Abdul Qadir, who has joined the PTI, and Shamim Afridi, who has joined the PPP. Here, three independent members and one member of JI come into play and if the government persuades them to support it in the polls, its total number would reach 49 – just one member less than the opposition parties. In another scenario, if JI abstained from casting vote then the opposition can have two votes’ edge over the government alliance.

However, if the opposition parties get support from JI and independent lawmakers then their winning margin would get bigger. Nevertheless, everything can easily go in government’s favour – just like it went in opposition’s favour when Gilani was elected senator from Islamabad by defeating incumbent Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh of the ruling party – because the votes would be cast through secret ballot.

The PDM has nominated Gilani as its joint candidate for the post of the top seat of Senate against the ruling alliance’s candidate, the incumbent Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. Though the numbers favour the anti-government alliance just like they did in August 2019 when the opposition brought a no-confidence vote against Sanjrani but he had surprisingly survived it by three votes.

The writing on the wall was clear back then and it is clear now yet the government can pull out victory out of nowhere -- Gilanii and Sanjrani’s victories are a testimony to it – they both won when the numbers on the paper predicted exactly the opposite results.

Despite the number game, the government has openly said that it would utilise all legal options to ensure Sanjrani’s victory against Gilani. Amusing as it may seem, the track record of both the candidates shows that they have made the impossible happen when the lawmakers went for a vote through secret ballot.

Contrary to government’s announcement, the PDM has once again turned its guns against the establishment asking it to not interfere in politics while simultaneously questioning the government’s silence over its recent demand of holding elections through open vote.

Following the Senate elections, PTI has emerged as the biggest party in the upper house of the parliament, followed by the PPP, the PML-N and the BAP. It may be mentioned here that half of the current members of the Senate have completed their six-year term on March 11.

It may also be recalled that there are 104 members of the Senate, half of whom retire every three years and elections are held for their seats. Following the merger of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there was no polling for the four seats and the total Senate seats reduced from 104 to 100. Resultantly, elections were held only for 48 Senate seats this time.

Separately, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz alleged that the party's candidates are being asked to refrain from voting for PDM candidate the Senate top slot.

“Our senators are being called and asked not to vote for [the] PDM candidate," Maryam said in a Twitter post. "Some of them have recorded the evidence," she added. The PML-N leader, however, did not specify as to who was holding such conversations with the party's members.

In a related development, Prime Minister Imran Khan has nominated PTI member from former Fata Senator Mirza Mohammad Afridi the government candidate for the post of the deputy chairman.

The nomination was revealed by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz on Twitter, a day ahead of the polls for the posts of Senate chairman and deputy chairman.

Afridi has been nominated against Maulana Ghafoor Haideri, the joint candidate of the opposition alliance, the PDM.

PM Imran has said in a tweet that the recent Senate elections showed how the country was losing its moral compass and warned that nation-states had been destroyed throughout history due to moral decay and corruption.

The premier's warning comes a day before the Senate will hold elections to appoint a new chairman and deputy chairman. The ruling PTI also alleged horse-trading in the recently held elections in the upper house of parliament.

"Many nations before you were destroyed when there was one law for the powerful and another for the weak," said the premier while quoting the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

The premier further said that once a country loses its moral authority, "deal-making (NRO) with the powerful criminals is resorted to".

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