Despite all the rhetoric of conspiracy, the Senate polls did take place. The party that stands victorious following the polls, as expected, is undisputedly the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – which now holds 41 seats (including the 3 withheld Balochistan seats) of the 104-member Senate.
It was therefore no surprise that it was the PPP that was, for months, crying foul about plans to somehow postpone the polls. From theories that said that the National Assembly would be dissolved by undemocratic forces to theories of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) dissolving its own Punjab government in order to leave the electoral college of the Senate polls incomplete, conspiracy was abound.
According to the PPP, including no less than the prime minister himself, forces opposed to it wanted to deny the party a massive Senate presence – the argument being that such massive presence would mean a perpetuation of its power beyond the next elections, which are expected anytime inside the next year.
But how significant, really is the PPP’s victory?
The answer lies in a grey area.
Firstly, the PPP was already the single largest party in the Senate with 27 members. That lead has just been enhanced – dramatically, though – up to 41 members, which is still not a clear majority (requiring 52 seats).
In any case, the Senate, at the end of the day, is not nearly as powerful as the other house of the Parliament, the National Assembly.
While the Federal Cabinet has been made “responsible and accountable” to the Senate under the 18th Amendment, according to constitutional expert SM Zafar, this accountability is only on paper.
Nor are yesterday’s gains reflective of new voter confidence or fresh mandate – after all, the electoral college is the same one that saw the PPP come to power back in 2008. It is, in essence, a delayed victory.
It is true that the any legislation by the National Assembly also requires the Senate’s approval. But at the end of the day, objection by the Senate is not enough to stop legislation. According to constitutional expert SM Zafar, if the deadlock persists, a joint session is called for and the bill voted for again. A joint session would obviously give a heavier advantage to the 342-member National Assembly as opposed to a 104-member Senate.
On a money bill, such as the budget, the Senate cannot even vote. They can “recommend” changes, but the changes are not binding.
But let’s not get that far.
According to analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi, a PPP-dominated legislature will not have “a major impact”, even for a non-PPP government, because “[the two] fight but they do cooperate.” He says that it has happened in the past, and cites the example of the executive in the United States being run by the Democratic Party, while the House of Representatives is run by the opposing Republicans. It still works.
The opposition doesn’t seem too intimidated either.
PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal doesn’t see the PPP’s domination of the Senate as a big problem – even for a future government that will be run by his party. “For all reasonable legislation, they will have to give support … else they will be exposed.”
“Even if they oppose, there will be a joint session.”
Iqbal also recalls that the PMLQ-MMA alliance that ruled the Senate when the incumbent government came to power did not really cause any trouble for the PPP.
While he did once again mention the “conspiracies and hurdles” to the Senate elections, PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira also played down the victory on Friday, simply saying that the victory was another step in the effort to strengthen the democratic system. “It is a victory of the system.”
He continued: “Yes, it will be an advantage, but we will not misuse it (if faced with an opposing government).”
So what was all the commotion about?
There are other advantages – ones that may interest the PPP for different reasons – reasons other than governance and perpetuation of democratic systems. After all, the Senate is the electoral college for the presidential election – one that that has a major say at the end of the day.
Also, the chairperson of the Senate sits in for the president when he’s out of town or incapacitated. And we know the president wouldn’t like strangers in the palace.
Then there is the concept of perceived power. As much as anything else, the Senate elections are a symbolic victory for the PPP. According to Rizvi, “psychologically, it has an impact” … the effect will be more along the lines of “look, the PPP is not dead.”
And that’s where so much of the PPP’s strength is derived from, historically. Just the fact that the elections were held is a victory for the PPP as much as the result itself. Six months ago, people were thinking that the Senate polls would not happen – and would be stopped to stymie the PPP’s progress. That they have happened is a boost to the PPP, because the party had put the polls, which are routine, forward as their personal objective against the plotting of non-democratic forces. As one retired PPP old hand put it well: “When ‘they’ come – it doesn’t matter what system is in place.”
But, at the end of the day, nothing happened. They were just scheduled polls. That, too, for the Senate.
Tariq Azim Khan
Sardar Mohammad Jamal Khan Leghari
Syed Javed Ali Shah
Lt Gen (retd) Javed Asharf
Mohmmad Ali Durrani
Naeem Hussain Chattha
Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi
Ammar Ahmed Khan
Mir Mohabat Khan Marri
Jan Muhammad Khan Jamali
Rehana Yahya Baloch
Saeed Ahmed Hashmi
Syed Tahir Hussain Mashahadi
Dr Abdul Khaliq Pirzada
Syed Sajid Hussain Zaidi
Mir Israrullah Khan
Abdur Rahim Khan Mandokhail
Mohammad Ishaq Dar
Dr Khalid Mehmood Soomro
M Hamza (Punjab, general)
Sardar Zulfiqar Khan Khosa (Punjab, general)
Muhammad Zafarullah Khan Dhandhla (Punjab, general)
Malik Muhmmad Rafique Rajwana (Punjab, general)
Ishaq Dar (Punjab, technocrats)
Nuzhat Sadiq (Punjab, women)
Kamran Michael (Punjab, minorities)
Nisar Mohammad (K-P, general)
Azam Hoti (K-P, general)
Shahi Syed (K-P, general)
Baz Mohammad Khan (K-P, general)
Zahida Khan (K-P, women)
Ilyas Ahmed Bilour (K-P, technocrats)
Amar Jeet Malhotra (K-P, minorities)
Mustafa Kamal (Sindh, general)
Tahir Mashhadi (Sindh, general)
Nasreen Jalil (Sindh, women)
Dr Farough Naseem (Sindh, technocrats)
Mufti Abdul Sattar (Balochistan, technocrats)
Haiman Das (Balochistan, minorities)
Mohammad Talha Mahmood (K-P, general)
Osman Saifullah (Federal capital, technocrats)
Babar Awan (Punjab, general)
Barrister Aitezaz Ahsan (Punjab, technocrats)
Khalida Perveen (Punjab, women)
Raza Rabbani (Sindh, general)
Saeed Ghani (Sindh, general)
Mukhtiar Ali Dhamrah (Sindh, general)
Dr Kareema Khwaja (Sindh, general)
Hari Ram Kishori Lal (Sindh, minorities)
Muddasir Seher Kamran (Sindh, women)
Abdul Hafeez Shaikh (Sindh, technocrats)
Rozi Khan Kakar (Balochistan, technocrats)
Farhatullah Babar (K-P, technocrats)
Rubina Khalid (K-P, women)
Saifullah Bangash (K-P, general)
Ahmed Hassan (K-P, general)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2012.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ