The election of the Senate chairman was shocking for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as it failed to install its candidate despite a clear majority. The number of votes of the ruling party and its allies was at least 53 and the opposition trailed by at least two votes. The opposition won by 11 votes in the final count and the result could be a window to the next elections which are due in few months.
Balochistan Senator Sadiq Sanjrani, who was elected as an independent candidate, became Senate chairman after he secured 57 votes out of the total 103, defeating PML-N’s Raja Zafarul Haq, who managed only 46. He was supported by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, on the grounds that he belongs to Balochistan and his appointment as Senate chairman would alleviate the sense of deprivation from the most impoverished province of Pakistan and strengthen the federation. Initially, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said the idea was not bad and later announced support for him, on the pretext that it would empower the people of Balochistan. However, it did not forget to negotiate for the success of its candidate for the deputy chairman slot in return. It was the first time the PTI and the PPP struck an underhand deal and the PPP voted for the PTI-backed candidate and the PTI voted for the PPP nominee. Their brief electoral alliance has become a new narrative of the ruling party ahead of the elections.
Sadiq Sanjrani was backed by the joint opposition, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and independents from Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The PPP had 20 votes, PTI 12, FATA independents eight, Balochistan independents six and MQM-P five votes. The total number of their votes was 51. The PPP’s Saleem Mandviwalla and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP)’s Usman Khan Kakar were fielded by the joint opposition and the ruling party’s bloc, respectively, for the post of deputy chairman. Mandviwalla was elected to the seat with 54 votes against Kakar, who secured 44 votes. The MQM’s five senators abstained from the deputy chairman’s election.
Earlier, the PM-N had offered the PPP its support if it named former Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani for a third term. “I want to see a personality like Raza Rabbani as Senate chairman,” Nawaz Sharif told the media before the election. However, the PPP declined. If the PPP had accepted the offer, Rabbani could have been re-elected without resistance and all other parties would also have voted for him. Even it would have been difficult for the PTI to oppose him. However, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari rejected the offer of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif openly. Addressing a press conference, he accused Raza Rabbani of not resisting the “undemocratic” moves of Nawaz Sharif. He also alleged that Rabbani had not resolved the party’s reservations about the 18th Amendment and tried to side with Nawaz Sharif during his tenure. He said he had the required number of votes and challenged the ruling party to bring its own candidate. It is said Zardari was not even willing to allot Rabbani a Senate seat and only agreed to it on Bilawal Bhutto’s request. Zardari had also rejected Rabbani’s repeated requests for a meeting with him since January this year, which was a clear message to him.
It is said most PPP leaders supported Rabbani but Zardari was annoyed at him when his close friend and former Petroleum Minister Dr. Asim Hussain was arrested in 2015. After it, Zardari broke all ties with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and asked Rabbani to get tough with the government, but he failed. By rejecting the offer of Nawaz Sharif, Zardari conveyed a strong message to him that he had neither forgotten nor forgiven him for Dr. Asim’s arrest. It is said Rabbani was also speaking against the establishment which was against the policy of Zardari, who wants better relations with it. On the other hand, Rabbani was acting like a member of the PML-N by criticizing the establishment and the judiciary. His statements about the establishment and the judiciary sometimes created an impression that he had joined the ruling party secretly. The biggest issue for Zardari was that he could not side with the sinking ship of the PML-N. He knows from his experience that the ruling party has no future and it will meet the fate of the MQM after the arrest of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is said the PPP and the PTI could enter into a secret alliance before the election because open support to each other would be damaging for them.
The victory of the opposition’s candidates as Senate chairman and deputy has left PML-N leaders fuming. Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Nawaz Sharif, termed both Asif Zardari and Imran Khan “pawns”. “You did not win…you are losers. Zardari and Imran had become one after reaching its (establishment’s) darbar (shrine). People have seen your real face as you are herded like goats,” she said in her tweet. PML-N Ministers Talal Chaudhry and Marriyum Aurangzeb said, “There is a clear division between two teams — one is democratic eleven and other is the one that dances to the tune of someone (a reference to the establishment). In the 2018 general elections, the masses will not vote for their representatives. Votes were bought in the election and Sanjrani was not elected but recruited as Senate chairman,” they told the media.
However, the nomination of Raja Zafarul Haq by the ruling party told another story. The late General Zaiul Haq called him the opening batsman of his team as he was his close aide and minister in his cabinet. He is still close to the establishment. The ruling party had fielded him in a bid to get some favours for the party and the Sharifs from the establishment. When it failed, the PML-N started criticizing the establishment and the PPP.
Sanjrani’s election was a success for the PTI, in the sense that he was first named by it. It was the first time the PPP followed its archrival and decided to vote for Sanjrani. The underhand understanding between the two parties could continue before and after the election, because both think the PML-N is a bigger evil and deeply-entrenched and they would need each other’s support to uproot it. On the other hand, the Senate loss is a huge shock for the ruling party and tells it to get ready for similar results in the next elections.