Govt-backed candidates bag top Senate slots in major shock to PDM

Sadiq Sanjrani re-elected as chairman with 48 votes while Mirza Afridi wins deputy chairman’s post by securing 54


Rizwan Shehzad/News Desk March 12, 2021

In a major shock to the united opposition, the ruling PTI-backed candidates on Friday grabbed the top slots of Senate in the “controversial contest” marred by discovery of ‘spy cameras’ in the upper house of parliament.

Incumbent Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani was re-elected by defeating Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) hopeful Yousaf Raza Gilani. Ninety-eight senators exercised their right to vote, out of which seven votes were rejected. Sanjrani received 48 votes and Gilani 42.

 

Similarly, Mirza Mohammad Afridi, the government-backed candidate, won the post of Senate deputy chairman against PDM’s Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri. Afridi secured 54 votes against Haideri's 44.

 

The votes were rejected by the presiding officer, Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah, as the ballot papers were stamped on the candidate's name instead of the box next to it.

"These seven ballot papers are rejected," announced Shah. He added that one vote was rendered invalid as it was cast in favour of both the candidates.

The opposition challenged the result as at least six of the rejected votes were cast in favour of Gilani.

After winning the election and taking charge of the House's proceedings, Sanjrani thanked Almighty Allah. He also thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan and members of the ruling coalition for reposing confidence in him for the coveted post.

Also read: Oath-taking marred as opposition protests ‘spy cameras’ found in Senate

Addressing the media outside the parliament following the ruling coalition’s victory in today’s poll, information minister Shibli Faraz came down hard on the combined opposition, saying: “They [opposition] are people who have manipulated law and did everything for the sake of money. They have mastered corrupt practices… but, despite all this they have met defeat and insult today”.

“Today, they staged the drama of cameras. The votes that have been rejected can be re-checked through the screen footages.”

Faraz said the government will conduct an inquiry into the “drama they staged and in which they failed”. “They should be ashamed to have staged such propaganda,” he added.

“PPP has backstabbed PML-N… the drama of cameras was staged by them. We have only used legal and moral measures to win today’s elections.”

 

Speaking on the occasion, PTI Senator Faisal Javed said: “It is not only the victory of Sadiq Sanjrani, it is the victory of the whole of Balochistan.

“Today, the nation has to make a choice between two; one is [Prime Minister] Imran Khan, who does not want to mint money, and the second is the gang of corrupt and those who want to mint money.”

The people have rejected the PDM, he said, because they would not save the corrupt.

Read more: ‘Pakistan has won! Imran Khan has won!’

“The PDM has been defeated and the PML-N is sent packing... Insha Allah we will also win the election of deputy chairman.”

During the first half of the day’s session, the upper house swore in 48-newly elected senators. Senator Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah was nominated as the presiding officer by President Arif Alvi and was administered the oath.

 

Read more: Honours evenly poised for Senate battle

The Senate session resumed at 3pm and Shah informed the members of the house that polling will conclude at 5pm, after which the results will be announced. Before the start of polling, officials showed lawmakers the empty ballot boxes. Names of the senators were then called out in alphabetical order to cast their votes.

Opposition claims numbers on their side

Earlier, talking to media outside parliament, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani claimed to have "numbers on his side to clinch victory".

"God willing success will be ours again today as we have the whole number game," he said. "In my time, we ran the House in a better way. Democracy flourished in our time. In those days people from all walks of life used to come here."

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz said the government has lost its final battle today.

“Those trying to rob Senate votes have lost their final battle today,” Maryam said on Twitter. “They [the government] had to eat their own words after defeat in the Supreme Court (SC) and failing to amend the Constitution which calls for secret ballots and not installing secret cameras.”

The 'spy cameras'

Opposition members protested in the upper house after two senators found 'spy cameras' near the polling booth in Senate.

 

Opposition members stopped the signing of the rolls and demanded that the presiding officer take notice of the devices. "There is no provision to install cameras in the polling station," Raza Rabbani said speaking on the floor.

 

Meanwhile, the government accused the opposition of installing cameras in the polling booth.

Taking to Twitter, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said the opposition’s sinister plan of cameras in the polling booth was exposed.

“The tactics used in senate elections in NA by opposition where they converted majority into minority using all criminal tactics. That’s why PDM opposed the open ballot. Era of loot and plunder taking last breath,” the federal minister said.

 

Following the incident, Presiding Officer Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah directed the formation of a body comprising an equal number of government and opposition Senators to investigate the matter. “Recovered items like cameras and otherwise, will be secured and sealed till the final disposal of the matter," said Shah.

Number game

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.

Of the total 99 votes, the opposition has 50 votes, the 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.

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

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 the government’s favour – just like it went in the 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 a 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 a 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 a secret ballot.

Contrary to the 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 an 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.

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.

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