Seven lawmakers in the upper house of parliament on Friday made exactly the same mistake that was seen in the National Assembly nine days ago, which helped Balochistan Awami Party’s (BAP) Sadiq Sanjrani pull off yet another victory in the election of Senate chairman.
Before the election, the numbers on the papers were not in favour of Sanjrani, the government-backed candidate seeking his re-election, but as seven votes of rival Yusuf Raza Gilani were rejected by presiding officer Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Sanjrani was declared the winner by 48-42.
Sanjrani, who had defeated a no-confidence motion in 2018, repeated the same feat in 2021. He took oath and sat on the chair, where he has been sitting for the last three years.
“Order in the House,” were his first words after taking charge as the Senate chairman for another term. He then presided over the election of deputy chairman.
Surprisingly, the election for the deputy chairmanship was won with a lead of 10 votes by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-backed candidate, Mirza Muhammad Afridi. Afridi, whom the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) claimed as one of its senators, got 54 votes while the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) joint candidate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) got only 44 votes.
Victory for both the government-backed candidates on the top Senate slots is considered a major shock for the anti-government 11-party alliance, which had stunned the government when it won the federal capital’s seat in the Senate elections on March 3.
The victory had forced Prime Minister Imran Khan to take a vote of confidence from the National Assembly; which he did and started his second political innings at the midway of the constitutional term of five years.
Friday’s defeat in the face of clear majority in the House has put the PDM on the back foot and given the much-needed respite to the government amid the ongoing political volatility.
In the election of chairman of the upper house of parliament, Sanjrani received 48 votes, while Gilani got 42 votes. Seven votes cast in his favour were rejected, while one was declared invalid as the voter had stamped for both the candidates.
Lawmakers belonging to the government and its allies celebrated the victory even before the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional’s (PMLF) Presiding Officer Senator Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah announced the results.
As soon as the vote counting was completed, the government side’s lawmakers jumped from their seats in joy, rejoicing the victory; shouting slogans; hugging Sanjrani and patting on his back; all the while Sanjrani was asking them to control their emotions and maintain order.
Slogans were raised in favour of Sanjrani, Premier Imran, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan, from the visitors’ galleries though they were only allowed to witness the proceedings.
On the other hand, the opposition parties cried foul when Shah rejected seven votes on the grounds that the ballot papers were stamped on the candidate’s name instead of the box next to it. The polling agent for Gilani, Farooq Naek, argued that a vote can be rejected if the stamp is affixed outside the box but not if it was inside the box.
“Why should we suffer because of the mistake of the Senate secretariat,” Naek said, adding that Shah shouldn’t hurry in pronouncing the results. Shah emphasised that Naek should give his submissions instead of giving him instructions.
Sanjrani’s polling agent, Senator Mohsin Aziz, argued that the instructions displayed in the House were clear that the stamp must be affixed in the box next to the name of the candidate.
Subsequently, Shah ruled that seven votes were rejected and, resultantly, Sanjrani won with a lead of six votes. Upon seeing the opposition’s protest, Shah said that they can challenge the result before the forum concerned.
He then called Sanjrani to come, take oath and preside over the House for the elections of the deputy chairman. Sanjrani followed the instructions and thanked the PTI leadership, including PM Imran, for nominating him as the joint candidate of the ruling parties.
PML-N Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar while talking to The Express Tribune said that the opposition would challenge the decision before the Islamabad High Court as Gilani could emerge victorious if seven votes are declared valid by the court.
Earlier, the day started with a controversy when two senators — PML-N’s Mussadik Malik and PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar — uploaded footage and photos, showing multiple spying devices that were allegedly installed to monitor the Senate chairman elections.
Both the senators said that they allegedly discovered spy cameras installed near and inside the polling booth. The controversy erupted even before the Senate session began and for the first time in the country’s history, the newly elected senators took part in a fight even before taking the oath.
The House witnessed commotion over the discovery of electronic devices. However, Information Minister Shibli Faraz accused the opposition of getting the “spy cameras” installed, saying the opposition wanted to sabotage the election.
Shah, being the presiding officer on Friday, announced the formation of a six-member committee to investigate the issue of hidden cameras after the opposition submitted written requests to hold a thorough probe into the incident.
During the polling, the house burst into laughter when Naek’s name was called to cast the vote and he started walking towards the polling booth without taking the ballot paper.
With opposition announcing that they would challenge the results and the government claiming a moral victory against the opposition alliance, political temperature would remain high in the coming days as the PDM has already announced March 26 as the date for starting a long march against the government.
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