2013 elections, not Senate, the real prize

Published: October 18, 2011
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The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and senior partner at Ebrahim Hosain

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and senior partner at Ebrahim Hosain

The upper house of Parliament, the Senate of Pakistan, includes retired generals, clerics, feudals, business magnates, barristers and beauticians. In March 2012, half of the Senate will complete its term and fifty-four new senators will be elected by an electoral college comprising of members of the National and provincial assemblies.

The major loser in the March 2012 Senate elections will be General Musharraf’s now abandoned brainchild, the PML-Q, which will face a near wipeout. The big winner will be the PPP, who is set to gain almost a near-majority in the 104-member Senate. The PML-N is expected to increase its senators from seven to 13, whereas ANP will make similar gains, from six to 10 senators. The MQM will remain at its current strength of six senators.

The expected PPP gains in the Senate are being hailed as the ultimate victory for President Zardari. In fact, some analysts are suggesting that if the PPP is able to gain near majority in the Senate, it will be game over for the PML-N. Some PPP enthusiasts have even jumped to the conclusion that gains in the Senate will ensure a second term for Asif Ali Zardari as president.

Pouring cold water over such lofty expectations, PML unification block member Tahir Ali Javed has suggested that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif move to dissolve the Punjab Assembly and thus obstruct the upcoming Senate elections in March 2012. This reaction is not entirely unexpected. In response, PPP parliamentarians have moved privilege motions in the Punjab Assembly as well as the Senate, and are claiming that this is a conspiracy against democracy. And the party’s Babar Awan has said that those who are “trying to break the senate will be charged with breaking the Constitution”, as in treason.

The dissolution of the Punjab Assembly would delay the constitution of the Senate, at least to the extent of the election of 12-13 senators by the Punjab Assembly, perhaps even more, but for the PML-N it will mean losing its government in Punjab. In the ultimate analysis, this may be too high a price to pay for the PML-N, especially, if one considers that the PPP’s near-majority in the Senate will have little meaning in the run-up to the general elections. Contrary to what many people may think, the Senate does not have the capability on its own to foil the legislative agenda of a party which has a majority in the National Assembly. If a bill originates in the National Assembly and is rejected by the Senate, the same can be put to vote in a joint sitting of both houses of parliament. If it comes to voting on legislation in a joint sitting, senators will have only 23 per cent of the total voting power, and members of the National Assembly will have the rest. Therefore, a mere majority of votes in the joint session will ensure effective passage for the proposed legislation, notwithstanding the majority control of the Senate by a hostile opposition party in 2013.

Also, near-majority control of the Senate will have little bearing on the election of the next presidential election in 2013. The electoral college for a presidential election comprises of the four provincial assemblies, the national assembly and the Senate. This means that the four provincial assemblies will hold 36.8 per cent of the voting power, whereas the National Assembly and Senate will each hold 48.9 per cent and 14.7 per cent of the votes respectively. Thus, even in a Presidential election, the real control will lie with the MPAs and MNAs who will be elected in general elections to be held in 2013 or earlier.

The March 2012 gains in the Senate may help the PPP accommodate a few more financial heavyweight supporters in the upper house, but will provide the ruling coalition no immunity from voter disillusionment come elections in 2013. Most importantly, even after gaining control in the Senate, the PPP will continue to remain hostage at the hands of its allies.

Therefore, raising political stakes for the Senate election in March 2012 may prove to be a wasteful distraction. The real political battle worthy of rolling sleeves is the general election scheduled in 2013.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Falcon
    Oct 18, 2011 - 9:58PM

    Zahid-
    Well written. Thanks for putting together this timely analysis

    Recommend

  • Respectful Observer
    Oct 18, 2011 - 10:48PM

    Rightly said there! But there is this situation that needs to be given a fair bit of thought too.

    It looks like that the tables might turn (no military intervention) even before the senate elections. Meaning you might have general elections in early 2012 before a senate poll to happen. But this election (whenever happens) is going to be a major political fiasco for all PPP, MQM, ANP, and even PMLN. Nawaz Sharif is running worried at the thought of loosing Punjab to an rightist alliance of JI and PTI along with an establishment brokered block.He also fears loosing some heavyweights.Recommend

  • Respectful Observer
    Oct 18, 2011 - 10:52PM

    Rightly said there! But there is this situation that needs to be given a fair bit of thought too.

    It looks like that the tables might turn (no military intervention) even before the senate elections. Meaning you might have general elections in early 2012 before a senate poll to happen. But this election (whenever happens) is going to be a major political fiasco for all PPP, MQM, ANP, and even PMLN. Nawaz Sharif is running worried at the thought of loosing Punjab to an rightist alliance of JI and PTI along with an establishment brokered block.He also fears loosing some heavyweights.

    Recommend

  • Prof. Sarmad Hafeez
    Oct 18, 2011 - 11:04PM

    Blockquote

    Blockquote> Good advise 4 PML-N and an impartial analysis never the lessBlockquote

    Blockquote

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Oct 18, 2011 - 11:06PM

    A good scientific analysis of the situation and next elections. I agree there is no need to cal for an early elections as the country cannot afford the bitter election campaign and expenses. Does the current situation look like to hold an early election and that too for what? Why can’t the Sharifs control themselves for one more year and not torpedo the democratic process?

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Oct 18, 2011 - 11:49PM

    The numbers game has been simply and clearly spelt out by you. Great read.
    From a lay mans point of view it is irrelevant as to who controls which house with how many votes. The reason I say this is because when it comes to making laws for the betterment of the people they unite against it and if its for their self interest they again unite in favour of it. So both ways the people lose.

    Recommend

  • Mastuj
    Oct 19, 2011 - 9:30AM

    Thanks for this….

    Recommend

  • Saad Ullah
    Oct 19, 2011 - 11:50AM

    PTI will shock everyone in the general elections!! People should start accepting this fact!

    Recommend

  • Syed
    Oct 19, 2011 - 2:35PM

    @ Saad Ullah,
    As much as i hate to disagree with you, You have to accept the fact that College going teenagers and youngsters DO NOT make up the Majority of the population in Country, they dont even make up Majority of the Youngsters in the country, how can you expect IK to shock? I am sorry to say that, you are the one who will be shocked to see the harsh realities of politics, just like the students from KU were shocked to face it, (along with decade long torture), when they got into politics.

    Recommend

  • Falcon
    Oct 19, 2011 - 5:05PM

    Syed-
    I think that seems to be the case because teenagers tend to be vocal. However, truth is that most of the people who have listened to IK and PTI seem to be getting on-board. I think if you were to do statistical analysis of the floating vote bank, you will see the emerging trend. And yes I am not a teenager :)

    Recommend

  • Mehvish Bukhari
    Oct 19, 2011 - 7:04PM

    PML-N leader has no vision at all. We all have seen this in there 3 year government in Punjab. I feel now we have to find better Leader rather then to select again PML-N from Punjab. Hope these leader of PML-N either replace there leadership or get ready to lost the election in Punjab. And rest of Pakistan may try them as I don’t know what will be they deliver in other provinces. Earlier the elder brothers looted Punjab with both hands and now Hamza Shahabaz is ready to precede the same policies of his uncle and father. Sharif brothers are living a lavish life on the public money and provincial resources.Recommend

  • H
    Oct 19, 2011 - 7:52PM

    most of us recent college graduates and college students are fully behind pti.. i like pml n as well and especially shahbaz sharif and ch nisar but when it comes to votes, obviously pti is the first choice. and this is the mindset of nt even us youth but our parents as well… however, sadly even with our parents and families, together we, the urban population d not constitute the majority of the voters however full faith in Imran khan, INSHAALLAH keeping the mind coalitions being formed and the candidates with rural constituencies he has gained, there is hope!!

    Recommend

  • H
    Oct 19, 2011 - 8:02PM

    and excellent article!! ure one of my favourite writers, love reading your articles!!

    Recommend

  • Oct 22, 2011 - 11:37AM

    Excellent article … but I suppose there are more chances of things to go haywire in 2012 than 2013. May it be PPP or any faction of PML, only a clear majority will benefit as a nation.

    But as things are progressing, we are again looking at a Govt. with no clear majority and thus more energy is going to be spent in bargaining power instead of solving people’s issues. That sucks! … I don’t know why PTI + JI think they’d be able to bring a change when they don’t even have enough worthy people to represent them yet.

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